By Jessica Bagley
Niagara Gazette — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — Company leaders and politicians cited General Motors' resilience and recent successes Friday at a press conference that kicked off the Tonawanda Engine plant's 75th anniversary celebration.
"Celebrating 75 years in manufacturing is a significant milestone," Plant Manager Steve Finch said. "Two things I believe have made this plant a success are its rich history and the people."
Construction on the Tonawanda facility began in 1937, and production began in 1938. GM now has three plants in the area, covering three million square feet of manufacturing space on more than 130 acres. More than 70 million engines have been built at the plant.
"I'm very proud of this location," United Automobile Workers Shop Chairman Bob Coleman said at the event. "This is the plant that powers the vehicles."
The plant produced aircraft engines during World War II, and is known for manufacturing the vintage Chevrolet muscle cars, as well as Corvettes. Now, the plant is producing engines for the 2013 Malibu, the 2013 Cadillac ATS, as well as the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado, the 2014 Chevrolet Sierra and the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette.
Jim Glynn, the GM North America Labor Relations Vice President, attended Friday's event and spoke to how far the plant has come in recent years since struggling in the 2000s and declaring bankruptcy in 2008.
"The plant has added more than 1,000 jobs in the past two years alone," he said.
Glynn also noted GM's investment in the plant, with $2.3 billion being awarded in the past decade. Most recently, GM invested $400 million in the plant for advanced manufacturing techniques for the production of the Gen 5 Small Block engine family.
"GM remains a steadfast supporter of this plant," Glynn said. "This is an opportunity to reflect on where the plant and GM are going in the future."
Many local, state and federal politicians, including U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Niagara Falls and Buffalo, and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, also attended the event to congratulate GM on the anniversary.
Higgins spoke to the importance of investing in American companies and learning from GM's example.
"This is a shining example of what we can do in our country," he said. "The history we need to read is our own."
Bill Shaw, GM manufacturing manager, also noted the progress the plant has made in the past few years by more than doubling its workforce since hitting a low in 2009.
"When you look back, there we had our share of ups and downs," he said. "But we have always banded together ... and that is the trait of a family."
As part of the anniversary celebration, GM held an open house on Friday. Attendees were able to test drive 20 of GM's latest vehicles and tour the plant. The plant is also holding its 25th annual car show today from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 2995 River Road. Registration is from 9 a.m. until noon, and the registration fee is $15. All proceeds will go toward the American Cancer Society. Eight vehicles will be available for test drives. There will also be activities for kids, including a bounce house and petting zoo.