Automotive industry generates 1,100 new jobs for St. Clair County

By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

The number of new jobs in St. Clair County has increased for three consecutive years.

Dan Casey, chief executive officer of St. Clair County Economic Development Alliance, tracks the announced jobs from manufacturing, start-up companies and some of the retail projects in the county for 2014.

Dan Casey

Dan Casey

Early numbers show 1,100 jobs were created in 2014, while an additional 1,140 jobs were retained, Casey said. Jobs retained come from companies that were at risk of closing up shop and relocating outside the county, but were able to stay.

The unemployment rate in St. Clair County from January to October of 2014 decreased from 11 percent to 7.8 percent.

The number of jobs produced results from the rebound of the automotive industry in southeast Michigan, Casey said.

“Manufacturing continued to bounce back from the recession,” Casey said. “Certainly the automotive industry continues to get stronger. We’re probably up 60 percent in jobs created in our historic average over the last three years.”

It’s been a long way back from what the recession did to local businesses.

jobsIn St. Clair County, several large employers closed or filed for bankruptcy, including Blue Water Plastics, a company Casey said filed for Chapter 7 relief after closing its operation and five facilities in 2009.

ITW Superb Products, which had more than 50 employees, closed its Port Huron location in 2013. The company that created plastic fasteners for the automotive industry moved its business and those jobs to locations in Illinois and Wisconsin.

“Cars weren’t being manufactured at the same level that they are today. There was a significant resizing in the automotive industry, and we lost a lot of jobs during that time,” Casey said. “Fortunately, those jobs have come back, and it looks like the automotive industry is going to plateau in another year or two from now.”

Employment levels are expected to level off and settle into an unemployment rate in the 6 to 7 percent range, Casey said. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the county’s highest unemployment during the recession came in 2010 at 19 percent.

St. Clair County administrator Bill Kauffman said the job surge has a lot to do with an improving economy.

“Industries in St. Clair County that survived the downturn over the last five or six years have come back much stronger,” Kauffman said. “This past year, the county saw far more private investment dollars pumped into it and more jobs created than lost.”

Bill Kauffman

Bill Kauffman

While the EDA does not track the number of jobs lost, Casey estimated there were fewer than 45 jobs lost in 2014.

Casey said the county saw $85 million in investments announced for 2014 by private sector businesses. These investments included the SMR Automotive Systems buildings in Marysville along Busha Highway.

Eissmann Group Automotive purchased one of the buildings vacated by GMA Cover Corp. in 2014, which created 233 jobs in Port Huron and St. Clair County.

The German automotive supplier makes fine leather interior components and was looking for a facility in the northern part of the U.S.

“Next year they will expand the building to an additional 85,000 square feet,” Casey said. “They announced 233 new jobs would be created over a three-year period. The majority of which comes in 2015 from a $16 million investment.”

Those private investments generate new tax revenue that allows municipalities to provide services to the community such as transportation and improving roads, Casey said.

With the proposed patient tower and oncology center at McLaren Port Huron hospital, Casey said 2015 will require a lot of construction workers to build the expansions funded through private sector investments.

“Looking into 2015, we’ve got quite a few projects we are working on right now,” he said. “It’s going to be a year in which we will see a lot of new construction occurring in the county. There will be jobs, obviously, following that.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 2, 2015)

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