WYOMING, Mich. (WZZM) - For more than a century, when you heard "Made in Michigan," you proudly thought of the auto industry and, by extension, General Motors.
For generations, Michigan proudly called itself the "the automotive capital of the world." The state was home to dozens of General Motors plants and many of them were in West Michigan.
Then came the big crash. When the auto industry started to collapse roughly three years ago, plants began to close and people began to lose their jobs.
Most West Michigan residents remember all too well the local fallout, including the former GM Stamping Plant on 36th Street in Wyoming. It closed in 2009 and was demolished earlier this year. The plant is just one of the many causalities of the U.S. auto industry's recent collapse.
"It was very sad for us seeing 36th Street close," said Mark Monroe, a local UAW Local 167 GMCH worker. "I was very familiar with people who worked at 36th Street growing up in a GM family. I think that is something we all recognize."
Now, even as the industry begins to rise from the fall, there is just one GM plant still standing in West Michigan - GM Components Holdings, at 2100 Burlingame Ave. SW.
"It is amazing we are the last ones and we intend to stay here," said Monroe.
The plant, also in Wyoming, was built in 1946. It spun off a few times, most recently as a part of Delphi. But as of 2009, the plant is once again fully owned by General Motors.
"What has really remained the same, which is why we are still successful today, and that is the culture and capability of the people," said Ed DiEnno, plant manager. "We have significant pride among the entire workforce, having been though a pretty significant downturn and we weathered it. We weathered it supporting our customers with high technology, benchmark quality and at a cost that they were willing to pay. That means at a cost that was competitive on the world market."
Monroe feels the average auto worker has become even more committed to ensuring the company's success after what they've been though. He says it helps management and workers.
"You understand what you have to do to make the company survive if you want it to survive. Most people here are from closed facilities, so they have and understanding about that."
"I think it goes into your work. We know, just like we are consumers, and every one else are consumers, we know our product must function and function properly when it hits that person's driveway and that is what we strive for and that is what our goal is," he said. "The number one thing is making sure the customer is satisfied and happy. That is what our whole goal is. We know our place of work depends on it. We know the economy locally depends on it."
DiEnno says he doesn't want to minimize technology but thinks it more important that the shop floor practices in the implementation of that technology.
He says, "That is where people involvement comes in, coupled with continuous improvement. We have a saying that we no longer want 50 or 150 problem solvers in the operation, being the engineers, the quality engineers, the management group. We want 550 problem solvers - every single individual that is involved in the enterprise needs to be a force for continuous improvement. We are fortunate that we have a highly-capable, a highly-trained and a highly-valued staff and they do that extremely well. So, if we have a competitive advantage that is where it exists."
The plant has 550 employees and manufacturers various engine parts, shipping out more than 300,000 parts daily. The workers say they are proud in the hard work they do, making parts in Michigan, helping beat competitors and attract customers around the globe.
"I think there is a lot of pride when you can export to Shanghai and you can export to Australia. That is something that is real shocking. For years and years we heard about those places importing to us and now this plant is exporting to them," said Monroe.
DiEnno says because of the company's employees hard work, the company averages about a 10% productivity improvement every year.