September 16, 2016
Pontiac Daily Leader (link to article)
The sprawling, 1 million-square-foot Caterpillar facility of Pontiac opened its doors to the press Thursday morning, as officials gave local media a short presentation and fielded questions, as well as taking the visiting journalists on a tour of the plant — a rare occurrence in the 38 years that Caterpillar has operated within the building.
The local Caterpillar plant has had plenty of reason to show off in recent months. Since the $1.6 million deal between the heavy equipment corporation and several municipal and school entities within Livingston County was finalized earlier this year, the local operation has added 80 new employees, and has plans to add 80 more by January.
The essence of the agreement was for the governmental bodies to pay Caterpillar approximately $1.6 million to retain its current employee base of 550, and to offer additional money for jobs the plant creates, along with a tax abatement on the table if certain job creation criteria are met over the next five years.
The Livingston County Board, the main financial backer, had clawback provision protection should Caterpillar renege on the deal in some way — namely, by closing the plant.
During the presentation, Susan Toher, the plant’s product manager, said that the addition of the jobs also coincided with the closure of Caterpillar facilities in Thomasville, Ga., and Santa Fe, N.M., and those plants’ operations and equipment consolidating in Pontiac.
During the tour of the plant, Steven Harding, the plant’s facility manager, pointed out that $12 million in equipment investments had been added to Pontiac, and that areas of the facility that were empty would soon be completely full.
Before the consolidation, Toher noted that the Pontiac facility, a fuel systems plant, made fuel injectors and pumps. After the consolidation, she said that the after-treatment parts previously made in Santa Fe — which she compared to catalytic converters in vehicles — would now be made in Pontiac. She said that the company had done a lot of “moving around and reconfiguring” to make space for the incoming equipment.
On the decision to consolidate, Toher said that a corporate analysis was done to assess advantages and disadvantages of where consolidation would occur, and found that the Pontiac location’s square footage would allow for “leverage of existing resources.”
Toher said that much of the additional work being done at the facility is similar to what had been done before, but some new jobs would require skilled labor, such as welding, which had not previously existed at the Pontiac plant.
Kevin Kramer, the plant’s human resources manager, said that most of the hires following the consolidation were local, estimating that 25 to 30 of the recent hires were transfers from the Santa Fe and Thomasville plants.
The deal brokered between the public and private sectors was not reached without critique; when asked about such criticism, Kramer said the decision “showed us that the community really values Caterpillar and its presence in the community, and we view it as a very positive thing.” He hoped that Caterpillar’s own involvement in the community, such as its $100,000 donation to United Way, showed that the positive relationship was reciprocal.
After the tour, Caterpillar employee Shannon Ziegler, who is a Livingston County native, Pontiac facility veteran and, most recently, a transfer from the Georgia facility, said he was not at all surprised that Livingston County had stepped up to make the Pontiac plant as attractive an option as possible following consolidation.
“This town as always been good for all the businesses here, but it was just amazing (hearing about the deal),” he said. “It just really sunk right to your heart.”