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Fuyao buys part of former GM plant

Officials say plant will house 800 workers within five years.

The glass for one in four autos sold in America will be manufactured on a 100-acre site in Moraine as a result of the deal finalized Thursday with Fuyao, the Chinese automotive glass maker that pledges to put 800 workers there within three to five years.

Fuyao paid $15 million for 1.2 million square feet of what was once a General Motors assembly plant.

The site at Ohio 741 and West Stroop Road is poised to become Fuyao’s largest plant and possibly the heart of its $400 million U.S. research and development center, said Cao Dewang, Fuyao’s chairman, who made a surprise visit Thursday to the I-70/75 Economic Development Association’s annual summit at Sinclair Community College.

Asked about a possible R&D center, Jeff Hoagland, president and chief executive of the Dayton Development Coalition, said, “We have a shot at it.”

The coalition worked with the state’s private development arm, JobsOhio, for about a year to draw Fuyao (pronounced “Fwee-yow”) to the area.

Cao said the Moraine plant is the “first step” to the company’s R&D center, which he hopes to establish by the end of 2016.

“We really like the site itself,” the chairman said of Moraine.

The company says it will eventually pump $230 million into the plant and the Dayton area. Mike Davis, Moraine development director, said more workers could be hired after the initial 800.

Cao said through an interpreter that the company looks forward to being “a good neighbor and a friend” to the Dayton community.

Hiring will begin next week for top managers and engineers, the chairman said.

Work force mostly local

Current Fuyao employees will train the plant’s work force, most of which will be hired from the area, said Dave Burrows, the coalition’s vice president of development. He did not offer numbers on how many of the plant’s work force will be current Fuyao employees, but he said the great majority of the workers will be locally hired.

Hiring of line workers will likely happen in the fourth quarter this year, Cao said.

“We hope to make Moraine Fuyao’s biggest plant,” he said.

Burrows compared the significance of the Fuyao investment to Honda’s foray into Ohio years ago. “You’re seeing what Honda did in the late ’70s,” Burrows said. Honda, which has some 14,000 Ohio workers today, started in Marysville with a relatively small motorcycle plant in 1979.

Already, top Fuyao team members are buying homes and leasing apartments in the area, said Fuyao and Moraine officials.

Industrial Realty Group (IRG), the plant’s former owner, usually keeps prices private when it acquires properties. Asked for a reaction to Cao’s comment at a press conference that he gave IRG a $15 million check, IRG principal Stu Lichter simply said: “I thought it was as funny as hell.”

Important milestone

Fuyao’s purchase of the plant is an important milestone in the community’s quest to return a large manufacturer to the site, which GM left in December 2008 at the depth of the Great Recession.

“We’re talking about $230 million invested in a community that was left for dead …. This is just the start of it, folks,” Burrows told an audience at Sinclair.

Davis told the same audience that Moraine competed with another Ohio location for the plant, a location he did not name.

But he said what sold Fuyao on Moraine was the presence of the sprawling former GM plant, much of which is still in good condition.

Lichter agreed that a standing building in good shape pulled Fuyao to Moraine.

“A building is like a bridge or a road,” Lichter said.

In a prepared statement, Hoagland said, “The news on Fuyao and IRG closing on the sale of the building is another big step for job creation and record-setting capital investment in the Dayton region. The region is one step closer to back filling one of our assets in the former GM site.”

Ripple effect

It’s not known yet how much in incentives Ohio offered as part of the deal. The Ohio Tax Credit Authority is scheduled to meet Tuesday and may take up the Fuyao package, which could include tax credits and other incentives.

State and local leaders hope Fuyao’s presence has a ripple effect, leading to suppliers, vendors and others establishing a local presence to work with the company.

“Fuyao’s commitment to re-purposing the plant is great news for the city of Moraine and the residents of the Miami Valley,” Sen. Sherrod Brown said in a statement. “Since 2009 I have worked with community leaders and the federal government to ensure the site was primed for redevelopment. With one in eight jobs connected to the auto industry in Ohio, Fuyao’s decision to locate to Moraine underscores the strength of Ohio’s manufacturing heritage and the unbeatable quality of our work force.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said the journey to winning’s Fuyao’s presence in the area began with ensuring that a developer did not turn the site into a “parking lot.”

“I am grateful that Fuyao saw in this site what our community did, a great opportunity for manufacturing jobs in Dayton,” Turner said.

The company first announced its intention to buy the plant on Jan. 10 at a public ceremony with Gov. John Kasich at the Ohio Statehouse. In the months since, Fuyao has researched the planned purchase for any potential problems.

Kasich also made a brief appearance at Sinclair Thursday, meeting Cao for a private session. On the way to the meeting, Kasich stopped to speak with Sinclair students and employees.

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