Auto plant closing could hurt Fremont

Toyota emblem

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: The only automobile manufacturing plant in California is in Fremont, it's just north of Silicon Valley. The facility was a joint venture between GM and Toyota. GM announced plans to pull out of the plant a few weeks ago, and last Friday, Toyota announced they might close it. Rachel Dornhelm checks in with Fremont residents.


Rachel Dornhelm: Beck's Shoes is a family-owned chain. Walk into their Fremont branch and there are tables of comfort shoes and racks of insoles.

But go in the stock room with store manager Oscar Blanco . . .

Oscar Blanco: Uh, this is like your basic . . .

. . . and there are shelves and shelves of work boots.

Blanco: It's your basic six inch, we call it a six-inch black boot . . .

These are typical boots at NUMMI, the short name for Fremont's New United Motor Manufacturing plant. It is the largest private employer in the city, and its shutdown would hurt other businesses throughout the region. Places like Beck's. They've had an account with NUMMI for several years.

Blanco: Well it's huge because you figure they're given $110 towards a pair of their safety shoes. And they can only get heir safety shoes at Beck's Shoes, so that accounts for a lot of business throughout the year.

Blanco estimates with nearly 5,000 workers, NUMMI's business quickly adds up to a couple hundred thousand dollars for the chain. And in a tough economy, you don't want to see that disappear.

And that sentiment is echoed around the town. Including at Kirby's Sports Bar, which opens really early in the morning and is just down the street from NUMMI. Here's bartender Lisa Dapelo:

Lisa Dapelo: We open at 6:00 for a reason. They have a night shift there that gets off of work at 5:30 in the morning so for them, that's their 6, 7 o'clock at night.

On a recent afternoon, Dan Houle is there nursing a Budweiser. He's worked at NUMMI for 25 years.

Dan Houle: I've been there since day one. I started, we built the Chevrolet Nova . . .

Houle says when he was growing up in Fremont, his father worked at the former GM plant -- before it became a joint venture with GM and Toyota.

Houle: There was a lot more blue collar industry when I was a lot younger, I believe you had Ford, GM, Mac truck, Peterbilt.

Toyota has said it hasn't made a final decision yet on whether to keep the plant open. But to put the possible closure in perspective: Fremont lost 20,000 jobs during the tech bust of 2002. That's four times the number they'll lose at NUMMI. This week, California lawmakers started to work on tax breaks to help keep the plant open.

In Fremont, I'm Rachel Dornhelm for Marketplace.

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