When Mike McCann was growing up, the 60-year-old often heard the phrase: As the auto industry goes, so goes the American economy.
As mayor of a small northwest Ohio city, McCann has revised the saying to reflect his community’s reality. "As the GM foundry goes, so goes Defiance," he said last week.
McCann is cautiously counting down to mid-2018. By then, General Motors Co. plans to cut 107 hourly and 50 salaried positions at its Defiance powertrain plant. Combined with a separately announced downsizing, about 300 jobs will be lost from a workforce of about 1,130.
Many of the displaced workers are expected to transfer to GM positions in Indiana and Ohio, GM spokesman Kevin Nadrowski said. GM’s Indiana operations include a truck assembly plant in Allen County, where the company is investing $1.2 billion to expand and upgrade operations.
More than 800 jobs will remain in Defiance after the cuts, which are being prompted by the Detroit automaker’s plans to stop making nodular iron and doing iron casting at the plant.
Workers will instead make aluminum cylinder block and cylinder head castings for GM vehicles, Nadrowski said in an email.
As he awaits the job losses, McCann is working to shore up the city of almost 17,000 residents. That includes attracting new employers and expanding workforce training.
"Every day, we’re working on economic development," the self-described optimist said.
In August, Credit Adjustments Inc. announced plans to build a new corporate headquarters in Defiance. The company, which specializes in collecting overdue health care and student loans, expects to create at least 120 jobs over the next two years.
In late September, ProMedica Defiance Regional Hospital announced plans to construct a second medical office building on its Defiance campus.
The 41,000 square-foot building will house physician offices and outpatient services.
Construction is scheduled to begin early this year.
The health care provider’s announcement didn’t include an estimate for new jobs.
McCann knows it’s smart to diversify the employer base, but he’s not giving up on GM, which is a major contributor to the community’s United Way fund and significant supporter of other civic projects.
McCann is committed to helping the company grow its Defiance presence. That includes tackling workforce training by encouraging high school students to spend part of their school days learning how to operate various machinery. Some factories have designated areas to serve as classrooms for prospective workers.
GM has taken notice, McCann said. An official expressed excitement about the program and offered to help. McCann said the program would benefit from financial contributions and trainers to prepare students for future work in the powertrain plant.
A vehicle’s powertrain comprises everything that makes it move, including the engine, driveshafts, axles, joints, differentials and wheels, according to www.mistertransmission.com.
The parts are increasingly made from aluminum, McCann said.
The metal is lighter than iron, allowing vehicles to get better gas mileage.
GM officials in late September announced its equipment being used to make nodular iron in Defiance is outdated and would cost too much to replace when suppliers have the available capacity to make it for less.
They first started talking to McCann a couple of years ago about transitioning away from iron production.
"They are very good about keeping us informed about what’s going on," he said.
But that doesn’t make the coming change easy.
Despite McCann’s can-do attitude, he made a confession concerning GM’s upcoming job cuts.
"The closer it gets," he said, "the scarier it gets."