GM plant's loss in '06 eased economic harm


Published: Tuesday, June 2, 2009 7:00 am By: Jennifer Palmer

The Oklahoman

Oklahoma City experienced the pain of losing a General Motors production plant three years ago, in a healthier economy when there was a more optimistic job outlook.

Many cities face that situation today, after Monday's announcement that GM will permanently close nine more plants and idle three others to trim expenses under the company's bankruptcy protection plan.

GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday as part of the Obama administration's plan to shrink the automaker to a sustainable size and hand over a majority ownership stake to the federal government.

Some here theorize it was better to lose the plant in 2006, when the state's economy had more of a chance to rebound.

"It certainly was a good thing that it happened when it did," said Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. "If that would happen today, it would have a much more significant impact because we don't have the job growth."

Closing Oklahoma City's GM plant in 2006 created a ripple effect beyond the 2,400 employees who lost their jobs, said Robert Dauffenbach, associate dean of the University of Oklahoma's Price Business College.

The job losses were equivalent to a year's worth of growth, he said.

Nationwide, GM's plant closures will displace 18,000 to 20,000 employees, the company said.

'Lemons into lemonade'
Here, cooperation between the city and county ensured the vacant Oklahoma City GM plant did not sit idle for long.

The 3.8 million-square-foot production facility in south Oklahoma City was purchased by Oklahoma County and leased to Tinker Air Force Base for the price of $1 a year.

Oklahoma County voters approved a $55 million bond issue in May 2008 that allowed the county to purchase the shuttered plant from GM.

Purchasing the building, now called Tinker Aerospace Complex, helped to ensure that Tinker Air Force Base will continue to call Oklahoma City home.

Tinker employees are busy transitioning the facility from an automobile production plant to an aerospace maintenance and repair center, Williams said.

"We turned lemons into lemonade," he said.

"We had the opportunity to create nearly 3,000 jobs in that facility, even more than were there with GM," Williams said.

Mayor Mick Cornett said he visited the Pentagon a few months ago and the reactions he received were encouraging.

"The military is thrilled to have the opportunity to expand and build inside that facility," he said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Back to top