First supplier in 20 years to build in Detroit

American car-parts manufacturer Flex-N-Gate is set to open a Detroit factory, which locals say is the first investment by an automotive supplier in decades.

“This is the largest automotive supplier investment in Detroit in more than 20 years,” says Detroit mayor Mike Duggan. “We’re starting to compete and win again.”

Illinois-based Flex-N-Gate will invest $95 million in the factory, Reuters says, which will employ between 400 and 700 workers and supply parts to nearby Ford operations.

The company manufactures plastic exterior car parts, including headlights and front ends, and was founded in 1956, producing aftermarket parts before expanding into original equipment in 1968.

Flex-N-Gate owner Shahid Khan told Reuters the deal with Ford was the “great impetus” behind locating the factory in Detroit and says his company will strive to employ locals. The factory will be heavily automated, he says, “in order to pay people a living wage.”

Many factories in Detroit, once the beating heart of the American auto industry, lie abandoned, and only General Motors and Fiat Chrysters still have manufacturing operations within the city. The population is less than half its 1950’s peak, with 700,000 residents, and the city declared bankruptcy in 2013 following the Great Financial Crisis.

The Trump administration has forced new scrutiny on the industry in the US, with car makers compelled to reconsider domestic production under the threat of harsh overseas tariffs and penalties.

But Khan told Reuters the decision to build the Detroit factory predated Trump’s campaign and election and says “you have to have a social conscience. You can do that and still make investments like this”.

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