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South Charleston stamping plant to reopen

Read more: Stamping plant announcement has roots with 2007 state loan

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Spanish automotive stamping company has leased the shuttered stamping plant in South Charleston and could eventually employ up to 700 workers there, officials announced Tuesday.

A team from Gestamp, which has 120 operations worldwide, is already in the near-empty South Charleston facility.

The company, which is worth $11 billion and has contracts with "almost every" major automotive company, will employ about 175 people within 12 to 16 months and 400 to 500 within three to five years, West Virginia Secretary of Commerce Keith Burdette said. Gestamp plans to have employees working there by late summer or early fall, he said.

"They have enough space here to do a lot of things and as the president of the company said ... they didn't lease it to leave it empty," Burdette said. "They're going to fill it up and use it and if they do that they're going to hire a lot of people."

Gestamp president and CEO Jeff Wilson was out of the country and unable to attend the announcement, Burdette said.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin made the announcement Tuesday on the building's parking lot.

Ray Park has owned the building since 1969, according to Gazette reports. Over the years, he's leased it to American Motors Corp., Chrysler Corp, Volkswagen of America Inc., Checker Motors Corp., Mayflower and Union Stamping & Assembly.

 In 2006, Union Stamping and Assembly declared bankruptcy after union members declined to make a round of concessions that would have substantially trimmed wages that averaged about $17.20 an hour. The plant had nearly 800 workers in 2004.

The following year, Park committed to investing $20 million toward the facility's renovations. The state, under then-Gov. Joe Manchin's administration, invested $15 million as well. Manchin, a Democrat, is now West Virginia's junior U.S. senator.

"This was a total partnership between private enterprise, state and local government," Manchin said in a prepared statement. "As governor at the time, I knew we needed to make the investments in the site that would attract a quality employer like Gestamp to South Charleston, and that is exactly what has happened.

Manchin went on to thank Park for his vision about the facility.

"These are the types of investments we must continue to make and the partnerships we must continue to form to keep our state and our economy competitive. I applaud the efforts of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, as well as the wisdom and courage of Mayor Frank [Mullens] and the South Charleston City Council in making today's announcement possible."

Kanawha County Commission president Kent Carper credited Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin with working to reopen the stamping plant. Naysayers said the building would be bulldozed and the jobs lost forever, Carper said.

"[There was] one person that the Kanawha County Commission went to at that time and that was then-[Senate] president, now Gov. Tomblin. We went to him and then [former] Gov. [Joe] Manchin and our entire legislative delegation and we said this just couldn't happen. That was six years ago I think and since then Gov. Tomblin has worked tirelessly."

West Virginia was among five states that competed for Gestamp, Mullens said.

 "This is one of those times when you've got the city, county and state working together and it wouldn't have gotten done without all three of those entities working together and having a common goal," he said.

Earlier in the day, Mullens told the South Charleston Economic Development Committee that the city's new incentives for large companies were largely geared toward attracting the company. The city council approved an ordinance last week that will cap the business and occupation tax at $365,000 a year for companies that meet certain criteria of employment numbers and revenue.

The company's decision ultimately came down to South Charleston or a city in Ohio, Mullens said. Ohio cities do not charge a business and occupation tax, which is one factor South Charleston had to contend with, Mullens said.

"It's a big day," the mayor said. "It's almost like a historic day for us, to be honest."

Burdette said the facility itself had much to do with the company's decision to come to West Virginia.

"We would have never been in it without this facility," Burdette said. "There isn't one like it in the state. [There's] probably not another like it in this half of the country. It's about ... one million square feet. You could eat off the floors. [Building owner] Ray Park and his family have done a phenomenal job in taking care of a [facility] that had been vacant for five to six years."

Burdette said the state has offered to accept job applications for the plant through Workforce West Virginia, though that part of the deal has not been finalized. Workforce West Virginia and the area's community and technical colleges will handle the job training for employees, Burdette said.

The state, through the West Virginia Economic Development Authority, will also consider up to two forgivable loans for the company to move equipment around. The first of those loans will be around $15 million, Burdette said.

Senator Jay Rockefeller released a statement applauding the stamping plant's reopening.

"I am so excited about this announcement and commend South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens, South Charleston City Council, and my good friend Ray Park for their hard work aimed at attracting a large manufacturer back to the Kanawha Valley," his statement read in part.

"I've been involved with this stamping plant since my days as governor, and I have stood beside the workers through good and bad times during the Mayflower and Union Stamping days. I couldn't be happier that it's on the way to re-opening and adding hundreds of jobs for the Kanawha Valley."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com at 304-348-1240.


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