In Jan. 17 IssueRussell County News
The "big three" American automakers announced this week that they are bowing out of the Tokyo auto show.
They were last seen on Capitol Hill doing an impression of the orphan Oliver Twist begging, "Please sir may I have another."
Meanwhile, there are workers here in Russell County that are already without a job, or are worried that they soon could be.
"I'd like to give you some good news," said Gary Miller. "Right now we don't have enough information to put a business plan together."
Miller, general manager of the Hitachi Cable plant in Russell County, said last week there simply wasn't enough stability among the big-three automakers for them to have a good understanding of how much work they would have and how soon they'd have it.
Miller said they have about 45 people fewer on the production line now than they did last summer.
"Even Toyota is slowing down," Miller said. "GM and Chrysler are in bad shape."
Robert Rapone is CEO of BRUSS which makes gaskets and seals in Russell County.
"We started to see the first signs of softening in November of '07," Rappone said. "We've been able to let temporary workers go and not replace full time employees that left - we're down about 80 of the 200 people we did have working."
Rapone said one of their major customers is Volkswagen, which isn't as hard hit as others have been, but they are also big suppliers for American carmakers who have been.
Both companies sell directly to the carmakers or to the component manufacturers who ship directly to the car companies. Those are the segments of the automotive industry that has been hit hardest by the change in the international economy.
Rapone said BRUSS has seen some new projects cancel, but some are still coming on as planned. What all of that will mean to the expansion at the plant isn't yet clear.
He said the company always makes good on its promises, but exactly how and when that will happen is something they are working on.
"The company is inn good condition financially," Rappone stressed. "Good decisions we've made in the past are protecting us from the worst in this downturn."
Miller said he isn't looking for a fast turnaround.
"Right now things are stable," Miller said. "Even if the news was good in the industry tomorrow the whole economy will have to pickup before people are going to decide to buy a new car or truck."
Miller said they are running two shifts at the plant and he is focused on maintaining that level for the time being, while looking for better times.
Rapone said they have commitments as a company to bring on new employees, but he doesn't see those coming to fruition until 2010.
"We will do the right thing by everyone," he said. "If we make a commitment we own up to it."
Both men pointed out the cyclical nature of the automotive business, and how it always comes back after it goes bad.
They each said though that this isn't just a business cycle for the automotive industry. The entire economy over the entire planet is experiencing problems and the recovery of any one sector or location is not going to bring everything up.
The powers that be are talking about the second round of bail-out money going to the banks in the coming weeks. More money for the car companies is being discussed.
This week the stock markets around the world were falling with bad retail sales figures and last-quarter profit reports coming out.
In the U.S. state and local governments are reporting budget shortfalls and looking for increased revenue to shore-up government services.