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GM plans new facility in W.Va. Eastern Panhandle

December 02, 1999

New GM plantBy DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - General Motors said Thursday it will build a $26 million parts distribution center in Martinsburg instead of scaling back its operation here, but it will employ fewer people.

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The announcement made by GM officials during a Berkeley County Commissioners meeting brought to an end speculation that the automaker would move some operations from the parts and processing center here.

The 352,000-square-foot center will be built behind the existing plant in the Cumbo Yard Industrial Park off Grade Road west of Martinsburg. Groundbreaking is expected soon, and the new plant should be up and running by mid-2001, GM officials said.

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The facility will employ 500 workers, 231 fewer than the number working at the center now, GM spokeswoman Jill Witzenburg said.

"We don't anticipate having to lay anybody off," Witzenburg said. The positions will be trimmed through transfer or retirement, she said.

In an operation similar to that at the current center, the distribution center will handle replacement part shipments to more than 500 dealerships in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia, GM officials said.

The current center has 2.2 million square feet of space. Less space is needed because a more efficient system of receiving and distributing parts for GM cars and trucks will be used, company officials said.

The company said it would keep the existing plant, which opened in 1968.

The Associated Press reported that General Motors intends to refurbish the old plant and keep a processing operation there.

Members of Congress, state lawmakers, and other state and local leaders who were involved in the effort to keep GM in Berkeley County were present for the announcement.

"I've got to say it's one of the happiest moments I can imagine," said U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. "There were times that we were very, very worried."

Jim Rogers, president of United Auto Workers Local 1590, said that under the national agreement between General Motors and the UAW, employment cannot fall under a certain level at GM plants across the country.

That agreement expires in 2003, and Rogers said he can't be specific about employment numbers beyond that.

"I can't predict the future," said Rogers, who said there will be some attrition at the Martinsburg facility.

A number of workers are eligible for retirement, although for every three people who retire, GM has to hire one person, Rogers said.

Local, state and federal officials, including Gov. Cecil Underwood, the Berkeley County Commissioners, U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., U.S. Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., Rockefeller and others, worked to convince GM to stay in the area.

Initially, GM officials said the plan to shift operations was "an internal matter" and that the company would call elected officials when it knew what it needed, said state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley.

Government representatives told GM to determine what it needed and "we'll support it," Unger said. "Basically, it was a business arrangement."

GM agreed to purchase about 59 acres in the Cumbo Yard Industrial Park, and the deal included several incentives to GM, including a large tax break.

Although GM will pay taxes on its land and building, it will be exempt from personal property taxes on its equipment for 20 years, said Chesley Dillon, tax specialist for GM.

About 77 percent of local tax revenues go to the Berkeley County Board of Education. The board met at 7 a.m. to approve the tax incentive, said Jim Welton, assistant superintendent and treasurer for Berkeley County Schools.

No one could say how much the tax reduction will save GM.

The state Department of Transportation has agreed to build a road between the existing GM center and the new one, said Ray M. Culbert, manager for operations planning for GM. The state also will expand W.Va. 9 to five lanes from the Queen Street exits of Interstate 81 to Grade Road, officials said.

To increase efficiency, the center's loading docks will all be on one side of the building, Culbert said.

It will use a system under which "picking bins" will be kept full, enabling the plant to capitalize on space. Sometimes picking bins are only one-quarter full in the current plant, Culbert said.

Rockefeller said the state's economy is changing, and one of the challenges is retaining the state's "core industries" during the transition.

"There is nothing so solid or rooting to a community as a good manufacturing job," Rockefeller said. "It's like a sacred instrument."

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