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Posted on Sun, Apr 25, 2010 : 6:01 a.m.

General Motors' Willow Run plant marketed as part of Detroit-area 'Aerotropolis'

By Nathan Bomey

The repositioning of the soon-to-be-shuttered General Motors powertrain plant in Willow Run fits comfortably within efforts to transform the 60,000-acre region in Wayne and Washtenaw counties into a so-called “Aerotropolis,” officials said.

That economic development initiative aims to use incentives to entice transportation companies to invest in the region surrounding the Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Willow Run Airport.

“We would expect this to be marketed as part of the Aerotropolis properties that are available,” said Michael Finney, CEO of economic development group Ann Arbor SPARK. “That is already a commitment.”

General Motors GM Willow Run powertrain plant.JPG

General Motors' Willow Run powertrain plant will be closed at the end of 2010.

File photo |

The 5 million-square-foot plant, which still has 527 employees, will be closed at the end of December. The closure is part of a restructuring plan initiated in 2009 during GM’s bankruptcy filing.

Several prospective tenants have toured the site, Ypsilanti Township Supervisor Brenda Stumbo said. One of those was a military vehicle rehabilitation company, an aide to Gov. Jennifer Granholm told in November.

Finney declined to provide details about companies that have toured the site but said there's "no imminent deal."

Stumbo said she's hopeful that the site will eventually play an active role in the Aerotropolis initiative.

“But it takes time to really make deals become reality with the creation of jobs. That’s what we’re looking for,” she said.

The plant, which sits on a 335-acre site, employed some 14,000 workers at one point in the 1970s but was down to about 1,300 when GM announced the closure last year. GM paid $5.4 million in taxes on the property in 2009.

GM spokesman Kevin Nadrowski said he had not details to share about the repositioning effort for the historic plant, where workers manufactured B-24 bombers during World War II.

But Finney and Stumbo said prospective tenants have explored the possibility of occupying portions of the site. About 20 percent of the plant was part of a renovation project completed 2006 - and that space is considered more marketable.

Finney said the other 80 percent of the 68-year-old site is “older but it could be very useful.”

“All of it is usable at this point, but it’s doubtful that we’ll find an individual entity looking for 5 million square feet,” he said.

Hopes for abandoned auto plants have lifted over the last 12 months after Ford Motor Co. struck a deal to sell its massive Wixom plant to alternative energy companies and other automakers got traction in their repositioning efforts.

“I do think there’s definite hope for the future of that plant,” Stumbo said.

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or or follow him on Twitter. You can also subscribe to Business Review's weekly e-newsletter and the breaking business news e-newsletter.



Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 10:14 a.m.

I worked at Powertrain from 1978 up until 1991, I walked away! Boo Hoo? Everyone that worked there has paid a heavy price for making that $$$ too, check out the number or cancer related deaths, suicides and other health issues of all the people that worked there. I have lost numerous friends that worked there that died a very early death! I myself have breathing issues from working there. Was it all worth it? NO, let GM go kill the Mexicans. I and a lot of others did take advantage of the benefits that the UAW got for us and got a degree..If not for the UAW that place would have been more of a Hell than it was.. I would never go back there no matter how much $$$ they paid me.


Tue, May 4, 2010 : 9:11 a.m.

well the real tragedy here isn't the plant closing but how these people who worked there didn't take advantage of their benefits. they could have taken classes and got a degree from the u.a.w contracts that gave them scholarships. heck they made @ least $20 an hour they make enough in a week to pay for a semester at Wcc. bottom line it wasn't a huge surprise for anyone that the plant was going to close, they should have socked some money away. so boo hoo to the working rich while they head to the front of the line and those of us who never got an opportunity are once again left in the those of us who are glad to have an $8 an hour jobs with health insurance are glad to have one.


Sun, Apr 25, 2010 : 10:39 p.m.

The "Aerotropolis" plan is a joke. What is it- something like a 40 year plan? We need jobs NOW and not the type of $8 hour warehousing jobs some people would like to see at Willow Run. If this concept is to be a reality, it would be more feasible in Cleveland, Chicago, or other cities that have access to cross-country interstate routes- Willow Run area is about 50 miles north of one of those (I-80 and I-90). Furthermore, do we really want more truck traffic pounding the roads that we have a hard time maintaining already?


Sun, Apr 25, 2010 : 10:20 p.m.

Tigger, They would use more automation in the U.S. so there would be one worker for every two workers in Mexico. (more tooling and automation in the U.S. versus human labor in Mexico) the costs would be comparable. GM is afraid of the radical labor movement inthe U.s. It is a sad state of affairs where a company would rather do business in it's home country but cannot due to labor unions.

Edward R. Murrow's ghost

Sun, Apr 25, 2010 : 9:20 p.m.

bragslaw: I understood exactly your point. So rather than deal with the UAW, GM took the jobs to Mexico. And I don't know about the cost of the transmission, but rest assured, GM's labor costs in Mexico are a fraction of what they are in the US. If only we would "Mexicanize" our labor laws and labor relations, we would not have lost those jobs.


Sun, Apr 25, 2010 : 6:28 p.m.

Tigger, My point was that GM pays the same amount of money for the transmission coming out of Mexico or the U.s. They are just worried about strikes and work ethic i.e. the UAW. If there was not UAW the Willow Run plant would probably have been retooled to build the next gen of transmissions.


Sun, Apr 25, 2010 : 3:47 p.m.

With a few good leaders I c an see this area turning around, remember that when you go to the polls next! Ms Jennifer Granholm has done nothing for this state in the last three years for sure! As for Mexico you get what you pay for, believe it or not. This State has more hidden costs than the UAW could tack on. The UAW is effectively "out of business", sorry Jimmy it is over

Edward R. Murrow's ghost

Sun, Apr 25, 2010 : 3:04 p.m.

"The cost of making a transmission in Mexico is virtually the same as making it in Michigan. The one difference is the UAW in Michigan which tipped the scale." Don't know whether to laugh or cry. So we should become more like Mexico? Yes, this this statement is true, and the wages paid to those Mexcian workers are so miserly that Mexican youth see no future working in those factories. They, instead, see a better future working for drug lords. See: This article in the Christian Science Monitor does not address this issue directly, but it is certainly its implication. There are others.


Sun, Apr 25, 2010 : 2:44 p.m.

It makes me very sad to see Willow Run shut down. As part of the arsenal of democracy B-24 liberators, transmissions etc. were manufactured there. I would hope someday that Michigan will be a destination for manufacturers instead of a place to get out of as fast as possible. The cost of making a transmission in Mexico is virtually the same as making it in Michigan. The one difference is the UAW in Michigan which tipped the scale.

Edward R. Murrow's ghost

Sun, Apr 25, 2010 : 10:16 a.m.

Short term this is bad news. Long term this is great news--another opportunity for the state to diversify its economy and to end its dependence on the automobile industry Interesting that one function being considered for the plant is the refurbishment (e.g., reconstruction) of military vehicles. That, of course, will require the expenditure of federal funds. Wonder what the tea party-ists think of that aspect of the nanny state?


Sun, Apr 25, 2010 : 9:15 a.m.

This is all so very very sad. The last remaining 527 employees will be let go in December. Not good news for Michigan. Just as recently as 1984, there were 12,000 employees at this facility.