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Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly

Manufacturers consider buying former GM plants

Marketplace Contributor Sep 28, 2012
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Buyers are emerging for some of the dozens of closed General Motors plants across the country. 

In Shreveport, La., GM is decommissioning an assembly plant that turned out 4.5 million vehicles since the plant opened in 1981. RACER Trust owns the plant. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court-appointed receiver was established to clean up and sell more than 80 former GM properties nationwide.

On a recent plant tour in a golf cart, Bruce Rasher, the trust’s redevelopment manager, took note of a neatly stacked mound of robots once used to build the Hummer H3. He doesn’t know yet if the robots will be auctioned off or sold for scrap. Regardless, they’ll be gone soon. He envisions a massive, vacant building that is highly marketable.

“When a buyer walks into this plant, they see the possibilities,” Rasher said. “You have to look beyond the equipment and superstructure that was installed by General Motors.”

Rasher has followed up with hundreds of potential buyers since the trust was established in March 2011. Most are former assembly plants. But the portfolio even includes a nine-hole golf course GM built on top of a former ball bearing factory in Clark, N.J. Rasher said the goal is the same for all of these properties.

“We place a great deal of emphasis on the number of jobs created, and how long it will take to create those jobs, probably more so than the purchase price,” Rasher explained.

Companies are ready to spend, according to  site selection consultant Ed McCallum. In Greenville, S.C., McCallum helps automotive and aerospace firms find new properties, and he’s inundated with work. He believes manufacturers have slimmed down for so long, that they must expand or lose out to the competition.

“As the market starts turning around — which we think it is — they can’t wait,” McCallum said. “They have to manufacture and start as fast as they possibly can.”

Norwood, Ohio knows what it’s like to lose GM — and recover. The Cincinnati suburb town didn’t recover by luring a new manufacturer after its GM plant closed in the late ‘80s. They got GM to bulldoze the plant, and now it’s a thriving multi-use development. Thomas Williams, mayor of Norwood, said idle factories are eyesores.

“I would fight like the dickens to get them to take those plants down, and clean that ground and move on,” Williams said. “There’s nothing worse than a shuttered plant to let sit there year after year.”

But Rasher argues it would be a shame to take away millions of square feet of industrial space at a time when manufacturers are poised to grow. He said it won’t help a community to sell the site to a company that will demolish it and sell it for scrap.

To date, the trust has sold parcels worth $19.5 million. Rasher said the last thing he wants is more vacant industrial land on his books. 

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