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Rockefeller asks GM to talk

February 02, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller has asked the president of General Motors to tell him what the company has in store for its Martinsburg plant.

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Rockefeller, D-W.Va., sent GM President John F. Smith Jr. a letter last Friday asking him to listen to proposals by state and local officials who want to minimize the exodus of jobs from GM's Service Parts Operations plant in Martinsburg to new facilities around the country.

Rumors swirling around the Martinsburg plant hit a crescendo last week when GM called reports the company would move part of its Martinsburg operations to the Baltimore area "pure speculation."

GM earlier announced plans that would move some of the 870 jobs at the Martinsburg plant to new plants in North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and California.

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GM has not said how many jobs would leave Martinsburg, but United Auto Workers officials told West Virginia Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, the loss could be upwards of 188 jobs to Columbus, Ohio, and Charlotte, N.C.

"The jobs that are leaving to go to Columbus and North Carolina are a done deal," said Unger. "We want to try and cut the Baltimore move off at the pass."

Unger met with other Eastern Panhandle lawmakers in Charleston Monday morning and drafted a letter to West Virginia Gov. Cecil H. Underwood asking him to set up a Feb. 18 meeting between state and local officials and GM.

A decision by GM to move its parts distribution center operations from Martinsburg to Baltimore could cost the area hundreds of high-paying jobs and would have a negative ripple effect throughout the Eastern Panhandle, Unger said.

Economic incentives by the state to make Martinsburg more attractive to GM are being considered, but no details have been discussed, Unger said.

While saying she is distressed by the prospect of losing jobs, Del. Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley, said GM's business decisions are likely more centered on the global market than on specific issues with West Virginia.

A spokeswoman at the GM Service Parts Operations headquarters in Grand Blanc, Mich., said the company is willing to talk with state and local officials about the Martinsburg operation.

Decisions to move some operations from West Virginia to other plants in the country were based on logistic reports that said the move would provide the best customer service, said GM spokeswoman Kathleen A. Bommarito.

Bommarito said she was not aware of any attempts in West Virginia to contact GM about the moves and added she could not speculate on the possible outcome of any talks.

The 2.2 million square-foot Martinsburg plant has been in Berkeley County for almost 31 years and is used to process and distribute auto parts to manufacturers and dealers.

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