Chinese glass maker to unveil plant on former Ohio GM site

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Nearly three years after first announcing plans to re-inhabit a shuttered General Motors plant in Ohio, a Chinese automotive glass maker has completed work on its North American recycled glass manufacturing hub.

Fuyao Glass America Inc. Chairman Cho Tak Wong joined a host of dignitaries and about 700 guests at the facility’s grand opening Friday. He called it “the culmination of a monumental undertaking.”

“We are proud of our work in Ohio, in the heart of the U.S. auto corridor, and are highly committed to supporting the growth of the North American automotive market,” he said.

Fuyao has spent roughly $450 million to convert the former GM factory in Moraine, near Dayton, which was closed in 2008 after nearly 30 years, and an adjacent facility. It represents China’s biggest investment in the state and its eighth largest in the U.S.

The plant has the capacity to produce about 4 million units of glass a year for the North American market, including GM, Honda, BMW, Hyundai and Volkswagen. It employs more than 2,000 people. Continuing expansion is expected to add 300 to 500 more jobs by the end of next year.

The endeavour hasn’t been without its hiccups.

Eight health and safety complaints have been filed against the plant during the past year, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration records. Federal safety regulators found “serious” safety issues in two of those cases earlier this year, fining the company $14,000. Three inspections remain open, as the company contests those complaints, an OSHA spokeswoman said.

Fuyao workers Cynthia Harper, 54, and Timi Jernigan, 52, said the United Auto Workers is helping file the complaints, as well as a letter to OSHA seeking a broader investigation. The union is working to organize the plant, a spokesman confirmed this week.

Fuyao Vice-President Dave Burrows said the company is extremely safety-conscious.

“Those OSHA concerns were from months before that. We had taken those very seriously already,” Burrows said. “Safety is not a sometime thing here, safety is a forever thing. We have worked very, very hard in installing the safety equipment and making the plant safe for our people.”

Burrows said Fuyao has invested more than $2 million in personal safety equipment for its workers, including $300 cut-proof shirts, helmets, gloves, vests and eye protection.

Nurses and optometrists are on hand to handle health issues and provide safe eyewear, and the company’s compliance officer is a former OSHA inspector, Burrows said.

The Ohio plant is a culmination of years of patience.

The company arrived in the U.S. in the late 1980s, with a sales-only location in South Carolina. As it emerged as an industry leader back home, producing 70 per cent of automotive glass across China, it set its sights on U.S. expansion. Fuyao established a glass supply centre in Detroit around 2007 and a few years later started searching for spot where it could produce replacement glass. Michigan, Indiana and Ohio were all considered, Burrows said.

Tak Wang has said government support influenced Fuyao’s decision to pick Ohio. The company received a $1 million workforce training grant and a $3 million economic development grant from Ohio’s privatized economic development office.