Fuyao Marks Milestone At Former GM Plant
For almost thirty years the GM truck assembly plant in Moraine was woven into the fabric of the surrounding community – that is, until 2008, when it shut down, leaving 2400 workers without jobs.
The building sat empty for almost six years. Finally, things started to look up. First, several small companies moved in. Then, more good news. In early 2014, global Chinese glass manufacturing giant Fuyao announced plans to buy GM’s old plant – bringing hundreds of badly needed jobs back to the Miami Valley.
Fuyao’s parent company, Fuyao Group, is the largest auto glass maker in the world. The company has so far invested millions of dollars in the United States.
It's been a year since Fuyao Glass America made its first shipment from Moraine. And in that time, the company’s operations have grown tremendously. Fuyao now employs more than 2,000 people in the Dayton area.
The $600 million Fuyao plant itself is gigantic – nearly two million square feet. And there's glass everywhere, in crates and cardboard boxes, on conveyor belts, on storage racks two stories high.
Workers shape all that glass into smaller pieces that will eventually be installed in 1 in every four vehicles in the US. The raw glass came from Fuyao’s Mount Zion, Illinois, plant. When Fuyao’s first employees arrived in 2014, this building was empty. Fuyao Glass America President John Gauthier was one of them.
“Really for the most part it was completely empty, mostly dark, had a lot of holes in the ground. Had to be careful where you went so you didn’t fall in one,” he says.
It took a huge amount of work to transform the empty GM plant for Fuyao. The company started by hiring a slew of contractors to modify the building. Then officials tackled a mound of paperwork to get the permits necessary to begin production. A team of translators had to translate complicated glass designs from Chinese into English.
Even with all this preparation, Fuyao’s new assembly plant came together pretty fast. Within a year, the company had hired 600 employees. And workers had made their first glass shipment. The quick turnaround had a lot to do with training provided by Fuyao employees from China.
About 180 Chinese auto glass specialists have moved to the Dayton area. Most of them are only here temporarily. Gauthier says the Chinese trainers are teaching Ohio workers Fuyao’s techniques for making auto glass.
“We’re really trying to make sure that before we put all that responsibility on the U.S. workforce that we’ve given them the chance to really get not just the training but the experience because experience is very important and to have as backup the Chinese there to help.”
By last January, 1,000 people were employed by Fuyao in Moraine.
But with that expansion came some turmoil.
Fuyao has struggled to retain employees, and the company’s safety standards have been called into question. Earlier this year, workers filed a list of complaints with the United Auto Workers Union and the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration. Workers Say they were injured because some machines lacked safety guards.
The complaints also alleged fire safety issues and a lack of emergency procedures at the Fuyao plant.UAW officials confirmed they are working to organize Fuyao. Nicholas Tannenbaum was one of the 11 employees who lodged the complaints against the company.
“And it’s not to get Fuyao in trouble,” Tannenbaum said at the time. “That’s not our goal here. Our goal is to make us safe, make that environment more comfortable, that workplace safe, make us a better Fuyao."
In response to the allegations, Fuyao added additional personnel to address health and safety concerns.
Despite initial problems, many in Moraine consider Fuyao’s first year in GM’s former plant a success. And the giant financial hole left by GM’s departure eight years ago has largely been taken care of.
“We’ve really been able to stabilize everything as far as the city’s finances with the addition of the Fuyao revenue to the city,” says Moraine City Manager, Dave Hicks, who hopes other companies will follow Fuyao’s example.
“When you have a large investment from a chinese manufacturer, frequently others follow so we are trying to encourage that.”
Fuyao Glass America is still expanding. The company recently leased more than 240,000 square feet of storage in a nearby building. Officials say they expect to hire another four to five hundred workers in the months ahead.