Navistar, local leaders push others to buy trucks made in Springfield

Members of the UAW Local 402 and Chamber of Greater Springfield are increasingly working with area businesses as part of a two-year effort to encourage them to buy Navistar products made in Springfield.

The chamber and UAW started out more than a year ago with a mailing campaign to more than 600 townships, villages cities and other government entities throughout Ohio. The campaign’s direct impact on the number of trucks made in Springfield isn’t clear, but local leaders said they’re identifying potential customers that might be in the market for new vehicles.

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Navistar's Springfield plant is one of the largest employers in Clark County, where it employs more than 1,500 workers. Thousands of retirees also remain in the area.

“We’ve done a good job of building awareness, now it’s trying to move to a next step of trying to actually move forward on purchasing these vehicles locally,” said Mike McDorman, president and CEO of the chamber.

In the past few weeks, McDorman and UAW Local 402 President Jason Barlow provided a tour of Springfield’s Navistar plant to executives and staff members from Ohio Edison, McDorman said.

The UAW also has continued to work with local companies like Bobby Fisher Distributing, which recently purchased new vehicles for its fleet. Bobby Fisher Distributing has been a Navistar customer since the 1970s and its trucks make deliveries in a 15-county radius, said Rick Salser, operations manager for the company.

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Ohio Edison had previously been a Navistar customer but switched to a competitor’s vehicles about a decade ago, Barlow said. Officials at Ohio Edison didn’t return a call seeking comment last week, but Barlow and McDorman both said the goal was to show that Navistar’s products have improved in recent years.

Companies tend to buy vehicles from firms they’re familiar with, McDorman said, so the buy local program is intended to encourage them to take a closer look at Navistar’s products made in Springfield.

“We’ve built a lot of awareness with the companies and municipalities,” McDorman said. “Those organizations are at least taking another look at Navistar where they weren’t taking a close enough look before.”

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The idea for the campaign started in part because members of the UAW noticed some local governments using vehicles made elsewhere, Barlow said. Even some of the Navistar vehicles on the road were being made at the manufacturer’s plant in Escobedo, Mexico, instead of Springfield, he said.

“It was kind of an awareness project to let people know they can specify to have their vehicles built in Springfield,” Barlow said.

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If local officials are successful in encouraging more orders for products in Springfield, Barlow said it benefits both the company and local workers.

“It’s job security and that’s the key to it all for the local workforce,” Barlow said.

The company has ramped up production in Springfield recently after workers at the facility began production of a cutaway model of GM’s G Van this year.

Navistar and GM also made a separate joint agreement to build medium-duty trucks in Springfield. Those trucks will be available in both the International and GM brands, and will be produced with engineering input from both companies, Barlow said. Production on that vehicle is expected to start next year.

In-depth coverage

The Springfield News-Sun provides award-winning coverage of Navistar and its affect on local workers, including stories digging into its previous engine technology troubles and rebounding employment.

By the numbers:

1,500 — Estimated workers at Navistar

600 — Estimated state and local government entities contacted as part of the buy local campaign

300 — Navistar workers in 2010

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