By Keith Gushard
A collapse of Detroit’s Big Three automakers could mean the loss of more than 600 Crawford County jobs.
With General Motors, Ford and Chrysler fighting to survive, the loss of any would have a direct impact on two local firms.
Meadville Forging Co. has about 365 workers at its Meadville and Cambridge Springs plants. It furloughed 13 workers back in October as the economy worsened.
Meadville Forging makes more than 25 million wheel hubs a year — a total that represents more than half of the U.S. domestic auto market for automobiles and light trucks. It makes about 22 million of them at its Meadville and Cambridge Springs plants. The company isn’t a direct supplier to the auto industry, but it does work for first-level suppliers to the auto giants such as Delphi and Timken.
Another major employer that could be impacted would be Pittsburgh Glass Works LLC. It has about 250 employees at its the Greenwood Township flat glass-making plant. The company makes automotive glass.
Those 615 jobs are only 1.46 percent of the total employment in the county, but are 7.78 percent of its 7,900 manufacturing jobs.
If any of the Big Three automakers close it would also affect eight of their remaining dealerships in the county and an unknown number of the dealerships’ employees.
The dealerships are already under pressure due to the tight credit markets. These conditions played a role in the closure of Titusville’s Schwab Ford Nov. 7, putting 12 full-time employees out of work.
An unknown number of Crawford County tool and die workers might also face job losses as a number of area tool and die shops do at least some work for the automotive sector.
“A lot are connected to parts suppliers, but a lot are not in as deep as they
were,” said Tim Mullen, vice president of Starn Tool & Manufacturing of Meadville.
For example, about 15 years ago, 80 percent of Starn’s business was tied to the auto industry, but today it’s about 10 percent, he said.
The loss of these jobs would ripple through other sectors of the local economy.
“Any employer who reduces the number of employees, it’s going to affect those who live, work, dine and shop in the area,” said Meadville-Western Crawford County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Chairman John Swick.
“If you took the worst-case scenario — absolutely it would have an effect,” said Charlie Anderson, president of the Meadville Western Crawford County Chamber of Commerce. “It would affect it all the way around — even to the schools and the tax base.”
Like Swick and Anderson, other officials’ worries for the future are not easing as disputes continue in Washington over the automakers’ request for help from the federal government.
As of late Wednesday, the Democratic Party-controlled Congress, unwilling or unable to approve a $25 billion bailout for Detroit’s Big Three, appeared ready to punt the automakers’ fate to a lame-duck Republican president.
Caught in the middle of a who-blinks-first standoff are manufacturing firms and auto dealers — and millions of Americans’ jobs.
U.S. auto companies employ nearly a quarter-million workers, and more than 730,000 other people have jobs producing the materials and parts that go into cars. About 1 million on top of that work in dealerships nationwide. If just one of the auto giants were to go belly up, some estimates put U.S. job losses next year as high as 2.5 million.
“If GM is telling us the truth, they go into bankruptcy and you see a cascade like you have never seen,” said Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, who was working on one rescue plan Wednesday. “If people want to go home and not do anything, I think that they’re going to have that on their hands.”
The automakers — hobbled by lackluster sales and choked credit — are burning through money at an alarming and accelerating rate: about $18 billion in the last quarter alone. General Motors Corp. has said it could collapse within weeks, and there are indications that Chrysler LLC might not be far behind. Ford Motor Co. has said it could get through the end of 2008, but it’s unclear how much longer.
For now, however, with the federal emergency loan plan headed for a roadblock in the Senate, lawmakers in both parties are engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken, positioning themselves to blame each other for the failure.
“The Congress needs to do nothing” during its post-election session this week, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the majority leader, said Wednesday, although he also said he still hoped lawmakers could strike an elusive deal to carve $25 billion in new auto industry loans out of the $700 billion Wall Street rescue fund.
But it’s really up to President George W. Bush’s team to act, he said.
“If we can’t do it here legislatively, I would hope that the secretary of Treasury would listen loud and clear, because they could take this into their own hands and do what I think is appropriate,” the Democratic leader said.
Not our responsibility, countered the White House.
“If Congress leaves for a two-month vacation without having addressed this important issue ... then the Congress will bear responsibility for anything that happens in the next couple of months during their long vacation,” said Dana Perino, the White House press secretary.
She said there was “no appetite” in the administration for using the financial industry bailout money to help auto companies.
The White House and congressional Republicans instead called on Democrats to sign on to a GOP plan to divert a $25 billion loan program created by Congress in September — designed to help the companies develop more fuel-efficient vehicles — to meet the auto giants’ immediate financial needs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at email@example.com.