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January 12, 2006 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2006-01-12

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w " w




WILLOW RUN A two-way
Continued from page 4B relationship

at this site."
Just as it seemed that job cuts
and/or shutdowns were imminent,
the six-speed transmission allowed
the plant to continue operating at
full capacity.
"Productivity-wise, the plant is
doing very well," Wootton said. "It
has enabled us to retain our work-
.force despite the difficulties that the
GM market shares have seen. (With
the shares falling), demand for our
other transmissions was declin-
ing, but the new six-speed product
allowed us to move those people to
the new facility."
In all, the plant employs some
3,800 people, almost 15-percent of
Ypsilanti Township's populus. With
this new transmission on the mar-
ket, the plant remains one of the
area's top employers and looks to
stay that way in the coming years
according to Wootton and six-speed
Launch Manager Don Morand. The
transmission currently appears in a
dream lineup of cars, including the
Chevrolet Corvette and Cadillac's
STS-V and XLR-V. But in the com-
"ing years, as General Motors makes
an effort to improve the fuel econo-
my of its large vehicles and trucks,
the six-speed transmission will also
find its way into the Cadillac Esca-
lade and GMC Yukon.

Successful management of Wil-
low Run depends on more than just
productivity these days. With high
wages, taxes and operating costs, a
plant will often need help from the
local community to plow through
hard times. The most common
form of community aid is tax relief,
which governor Jennifer Granholm
has toyed with to aid new business
in the state.
The management of the General
Motors plant has established a via-
ble working relationship with the
Ypsilanti Town Board, which has
helped it earn key pieces of legisla-
tion and maintain its level of pro-
"We have a very strong relation-
ship with the local schools and with
Ypsilanti Township," Wootton said.
"For any industry, especially auto-
motive, you have to have tax incen-
tives to invest money. We have gone
to the town board for it several times
and it has passed unanimously."
Beyond working with the town
board to create new legislation,
the plant is also heavily involved
in other community activities.
The plant sponsors a high school
robotics team at Willow Run High
School, a team that won the For
Inspiration and Recognition of
Science and Technology (FIRST)
Robotics National Championship
in 2002 when competing against


A sign entering Willow Run stands dilapidated and rusted.

We have a very strong relation-
ship with the local schools and
with Ypsilanti Township.
- Kingsley Wootton
Willow Run Plant Manager

hundreds of teams from around the
The plant workers also produced
a float for Willow Run's 50th anni-
versary parade in 2003. True to
form, the float resembled a key
piece in the plant's past history: A
B-24 Liberator.
Looking forward
As the rest of Michigan's automo-
tive industry continues to struggle,
the Willow Run Powetrain plant

provides a refreshing sign that
things might once again improve.
Ever since its doors opened in 1941,
the plant has consistently remained
one of the industry's key Michigan
According to Wootton, the plant
still employs several workers who
made the move from Detroit Trans-
mission's 1953 fire in Livonia out to
Willow Run. Like the plant itself,
the workers provide an important
link to a time when Michigan's
economy was on top.

Since its creation in 1953, the
low-volume Corvette has provided
Americans with a car to dream
about at night; something for car-
enthusiasts to enjoy as one of the
vehicles America continues to mas-
ter despite an increasing Japanese
market share in compacts, sedans
and minivans. Underneath the hood
lies the key to the Corvette's per-
formance - a six-speed transmis-
sion built by a factory that, just like
the car itself, continues to do things
right at home.

12B - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, January 12, 2006

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