GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Less than a year after promising new investment and more jobs, Benteler Automotive now says they are closing their manufacturing plant in Grand Rapids.
Mayor George Heartwell calls it a very unwelcome surprise.
Just last year, the city gave Benteler a big tax reduction; in turn, the company was to invest $7 million and create 12 new jobs. Now, the company is laying off 185 hourly and 50-75 salaried employees.
They're based in Germany, and closely tied to the city of Grand Rapids. At least Benteler Automotive was.
"This is a company we've understood to be a partner. And partners don't do this to each other."
Mayor George Heartwell says he was blindsided by the Friday afternoon announcement that the Hall Street manufacturing plant would close its doors March 31, 2014.
"My first reaction was deep disappointment and anger," he said.
Benteler Automotive did not give a detailed reason for the decision to close the facility. The company indicated plans to close five plants globally. Benteler Executive Vice President, Otto Buschsieweke said, "We have been studying our manufacturing footprint in North America intensively for several months to support our global strategy and to streamline our manufacturing footprint. The decisions we are making now are critical to maintaining and strengthening our ability to support customers long-term."
Peter Mendoza has worked for the Grand Rapids Benteler plant for 25 years, making door beams and bumpers.
"They say the facilities, due to the age of it, difficult for them to do what they want to do. I understand."
Jeff Beegle is the United Auto Workers international service representative for Benteler's 185 hourly employees.
"There are some nuances where this technology may be phasing out over the next 5 to 7 years we understand but at this point the work will still be done, just somewhere else."
UWA Plant spokesman Nick England says that will likely be plants in Kalamazoo, and in Spartanburg and Goshen, Indiana.
It's disappointing to a mayor who competed with Goshen for a $7 million investment. He's provided three abatements to Benteler since 2000, totaling $12 million.
"I knew about all the tax breaks. It's unfortunate to people, the whole city of Grand Rapids was looking for Benteler to stay around," said England.
Beegle says the hourly jobs range from $17.60 to $25 an hour.
Mayor Heartwell says he hopes to help the employees find work, and says he will work with Benteler to find a way to repurpose the site at 320 Hall Street.