Mayor of Flint, Michigan Wants City-Run Assembly Plant

As yet another auto plant prepares to shut is doors, the mayor of Flint, Michigan has come up with a radical -- and possibly illegal -- plan: a city-run assembly plant. The aim is to bring much-needed jobs to a town that has sunken even further into despair in the past 15 years.

Today, the despair will spread to more towns when Ford Motor Company announces a slew of plant closures. Additionally, there are rumors that Delphi will soon lay off thousands more employees. In November, GM said it would be closing another plant.

Unemployment in the town is already nearly three times the national average. Boarded-up houses and businesses darken the city's streets. Abandoned lots are choked with weeds and trash. Schools are crumbling. It is a scene that is playing out in industrial towns across the nation as manufacturing jobs are shipped to cheaper labor markets overseas.

But the Flint Mayor Donald Williamson is hopeful. "We are going to do something different in this city that nobody else has done," Williamson said. "We will (build) our own manufacturing plants that the city funds," he said. "We are going to specialize in nothing but truck accessories."

There is both plenty of factory space available and people who are used to working on the assembly line. And once the city proves the plants can make a profit, buyers are certain to come knocking, Williamson said. It's not clear if the city would be allowed to run a for-profit enterprise. When pressed, Williamson refused to offer more details or even say when he plans on submitting his proposal to the city council.

Flint has always been a GM town and its fortunes have risen and fallen along with those of its main employer. The northern Michigan town's population peaked in the 1950s at 200,000. But as GM's payroll shrank from 80,000 to its current level of less than 10,000 (including those employed at its former subsidiary, the now bankrupt parts supplier Delphi), so too did Flint. The 2000 census pegged the population at less than 125,000.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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