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Another Michigan Auto Plant To Close

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I was shocked to come home from Ann Arbor on my fall break and see the below article in the Saginaw News. My father had begun at the lower end of the corporate chain working at Malleable Iron Plant (formerly Central Foundry) However, even back in the 70's everyone knew the plant was doomed. I remember going to work with him when I was young wandering around the plant and assembly lines. The plant was truely a rich part of my childhood memories until my father moved into an office job somwhere higher up. We moved out of Saginaw's West side to a new neighborhood, and from then on Malleable became only a memory. I hope to get one more look at the inside of the plant before it closes for good.

MALLEABLE HITS END OF THE LINE

Sunday, October 17, 2004

JEAN SPENNER

THE SAGINAW NEWS

For more than 50 years, Charles and Viola Riselay have lived in the shadow of southwest Saginaw's automaking plants.

The tree-lined streets of small frame houses provided a place to raise their two sons, regardless of the sometimes complaints of the foundry smell.

"It was a quiet neighborhood," said Viola Riselay, outside Saturday morning collecting leaves. "It had good schools."

Since the loss of Delphi Saginaw Steering Systems Plant 2 in June 2001 the streets have a lot less traffic, said Larry Duby, 57, also a longtime neighborhood resident with his wife, Barbara.

"Now with Malleable closing there will be nothing but an empty lot," said Duby, a retired security worker.

General Motors Corp. officials confirmed Friday what workers at the Saginaw Malleable Iron Plant had expected to hear. The Powertrain Division foundry, at 77 W. Center for 87 years, is shutting its doors by September 2007.

The plant employs 300 hourly and 50 salaried workers who produce gears for automatic transmissions. GM has said it will offer workers opportunities at other GM facilities.

Duby said his grandchildren watched as crews razed the former Gun Plant in 2002. He now wonders what is in store for the sprawling Malleable foundry.

Redevelopment of the two sites, when it comes, must balance the needs of creating new jobs for the community and neighborhood impact, said JoAnn Crary, president of Saginaw Future Inc.

The county's economic development organization is working with Troy-based Delphi Corp. to acquire its 38-acre former plant site for $1, Crary said. Who would take ownership remains an unanswered question.

"We have to determine which part is buildable," she said.

It's too early to say what may become of the 260-acre Malleable site.

"We will have the next two years while the company is still in operations to have those discussions," Crary said.

Saginaw Future's board of directors has talked about Saginaw's lack of a large industrial site available for development and has made acquisition of such property one of its goals.

Richard J. "Rick" Sutton, plant manager for Malleable and Powertrain foundry Saginaw Metal Casting Operations, 1629 N. Washington, sits on the Saginaw Future board of directors. Sutton did not return phone calls to The News.

There are no plans for the Malleable site while operations continue, GM spokeswoman Darla Park said.

"At the time a GM facility is vacated, GM's Worldwide Real Estate group evaluates options for the further use of the facility," Park said.

Businesses feel the pain

Tareq Khalfawi owns a BP service station at South Michigan and Fraser near the plant. He recently secured a loan to more than double the size of his operation to 2,500 square feet. News of the closing is not what he wanted to hear.

"It will affect us," said Khalfawi, who hopes to renovate the station in the next eight months. "There's no doubt about it. It's hard to say how much, though. This is a good corner, and we get good traffic."

Jennifer Marx, head waitress at La Placita restaurant, 1515 S. Michigan, said the economic bleeding began a few years ago, with the loss of Plant 2 and GM's reduction of the workforce at Malleable.

"Business has already been bad, but now things will get worse," Marx said. "We used to average about $40 in tips during a lunch rush, but now we're getting about half that. Most of our customers are from the courthouse, the Sheriff's Department and police."

Farther down South Michigan, owners of Nick's Market, Trogan Party Store and Tony's Take Out all said they will weather the latest blow to the neighborhood.

But Nick's owner, Mike Ivers, has the store up for sale; Trogan's owner, Ray Al-Sahuri, said he doesn't need to employ as many workers; and Tony's manager, Bob Reed, bemoans that he will lose good weekend customers once the foundry closes.

"We rely on that on the weekend," he said of the 31-year-old eatery. "It will make a difference. Business is hard enough down here. But we'll keep plugging away."

However, at one time open into the wee hours to serve workers leaving late shifts, the take-out restaurant now closes at 9 p.m., Reed said.

Retirees grieve

Meanwhile, some Malleable retirees are angry, hurt and confused.

James Township resident Peter Dominguez retired from the plant in 1991 after 25 years. Though rumors constantly swirled about the foundry's demise, he never understood why GM couldn't make the facility part of its future.

Old technology and outsourcing of jobs at the plant proved its death knell, workers say.

"You got jobs going oversees, and then something like this happens" to people who want to work, Dominguez said. "I just don't get it. It's sad."

Lee Williams ended his tenure at Malleable in 1993 after more than 30 years. He owns a successful Saginaw eatery -- Magic Kitchen -- that keeps him busy. Still, the shuttering of the plant is hard to take.

"It's like my house closing down," he said. "That's the way I view it, because I spent so much time there. I still know guys in there, and even though they could retire, it's a decision they have to make. Nobody told them when to hire in, so nobody should tell them when to go. It's a sore spot." v

Jean Spenner and Paul Wyche cover business for The Saginaw News. You may reach Spenner at 776-9683. You may reach Wyche at 776-9674.

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