NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: GM’s continued investment in Fort Wayne is great news

General Motors Co.’s announcement that it plans to invest $24 million at its Fort Wayne assembly plant is great news for the community.

It also matters that GM chairman and CEO Mary Barra traveled to Fort Wayne Thursday to make the announcement. Barra’s presence, her second visit to the plant in the past six months, underscores the role the local facility and its workers has in the company.

GM said the upgrades, which are scheduled to be finished this summer, are designed to increase production of the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 pickups with an emphasis on the four-door crew cab models with two rows of seats.

GM said combined sales of the crew cab models of the Silverado and Sierra were up 20 percent in the first quarter compared to the first quarter of 2018. “We have a great truck, and it is selling like wildfire,” said Gerald Johnson, GM’s new executive vice president of global manufacturing, who came to Fort Wayne with Barra for Thursday’s announcement.

Barra said GM is “expanding customer choice with new models, more cab choices and innovative new power trains.”

“This team is working really hard,” Barra said of the Fort Wayne plant. “These products are in high demand, and you want to seize that opportunity.”

Added Dan Flores, a GM corporate spokesman, “The products coming out of (Fort Wayne) are critical to our financial success.”

Specifically, GM is investing the $24 million in Fort Wayne to update conveyors and tools in the paint and body shops. While no new jobs will be created because of the investment, the upgrades are expected to boost production, which is already at record levels. GM did not say how many new trucks can be produced because of the improvements, but a company spokesman said even a small improvement in efficiency can make a crucial difference.

“For trucks, even a few more per hour is a big deal because you’re on three shifts and running six or seven days a week and obviously truck sales are very strong,” spokesman Pat Morrissey told the Detroit Free Press.

In 2015, GM announced it was investing more than $1 billion over four years at the Fort Wayne plant to prepare it to produce the next generation of pickups. Employment at the plant is 4,500 workers, making it Forty Wayne’s largest manufacturing employer and third-largest overall behind only Parkview Health System and Lutheran Health Network. The plant’s success is vital to the local economy, where the unemployment rate fell to just 2.6 percent in April, the lowest in more than a decade.

Morrisey said Barra is making a conscious effort to visit GM plants to make investment announcements, even when the investment is smaller like the $24 million investment in Fort Wayne.

The announcement and Barra’s appearance appeared to resonate with workers. Barra met with about 100 employees in question-and-answer sessions that were closed to the media. Holli Murphy, president of United Auto Workers Local 2209, said Thursday’s announcement was a win for the Fort Wayne plant.

“Keep jobs in the U.S.A.,” Murphy told the Journal Gazette. “There’s always room for improvement, but today is a good start.”

Murphy is right. It’s good news that the truck models made in Fort Wayne are enjoying increased sales and that productivity at the local plant continues to increase. And GM’s decision to continue investing in Fort Wayne and to send top leadership to the city for the announcement are reasons to cheer. It’s a sign that after more than 30 years and 8.8 million trucks, Fort Wayne remains as important to GM as the automaker is to the city.