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Leonard auto plant awarded $235K grant

Cooper-Standard Automotive is located at 180 E. Elmwood St. in Leonard. The plant is scheduled to add 55 jobs over the next few years. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
September 26, 2012 - A leading global automotive supplier was awarded a $235,730 grant last week that will enable it to expand its manufacturing plant in Leonard Village and add 55 jobs there as opposed to moving its operations to Mexico in order to obtain cheaper labor.

Cooper-Standard Automotive received the grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund. It was approved through the Michigan Business Development Program, which provides grants, loans and other economic assistance to qualified businesses that make investments or create jobs.

Leonard Village President Mike McDonald was extremely glad to hear the news.

"Cooper-Standard is the largest employer in the Village of Leonard," he said. "We've got several smaller businesses, but (Cooper-Standard is) truly a global company and they've got multiple shifts working here. So, we appreciate what it means to our local economy as well as helping them achieve their goals."

Headquartered in Novi, Cooper-Standard has locations on five continents. The company specializes in fluid handling, body sealing and anti-vibration systems.

The $235,730 grant will be used to help offset the difference in labor costs between Michigan and Mexico, making it more competitive for Cooper-Standard to manufacture a new product in Leonard.

That new product is a high-tech valve designed to move fluids through a vehicle to heat and cool various parts such as the battery in a Chevy Volt (a hybrid electric vehicle) and the oil pan and transmission in a vehicle from another automotive company, the name of which is not being disclosed at this time.

In order to produce this part in Leonard, Cooper-Standard had previously announced plans to invest $3.378 million in new machinery and equipment, plus another $169,000 for renovations to the 20,000-square-foot plant.

Cooper-Standard has already received about 95 percent of the new machinery and equipment.

As for the plant renovations, they've been completed.

As a result of all this, Cooper-Standard plans to create 55 new jobs at the Leonard facility over the next few years.

The company must fill all of the positions before it can receive any money from the state. The grant was awarded contingent on those new hires taking place.

Of these jobs, 50 would be skilled and unskilled positions paying $24,960 to $25,688 annually between 2012 and 2014; three would be clerical/service positions paying $28,080 annually; and two would be management/professional positions paying $65,000 per year, according to the application Cooper-Standard submitted to the state.

McDonald views an additional 55 workers as a positive thing for Leonard's economy.

"The local businesses, especially the stores, should see some reflection of that (through increased sales)," he said.

The village president noted that as part of Cooper-Standard's agreement with the state and the municipality, the company must "attempt to hire as many people locally, from within the area, as they can."

"There are a number of skilled positions that they may, in all likelihood, not be able to fill locally, but they've made a good faith promise to try to do that," McDonald said. "That has to be a good thing not only for this community, but for the area as well."

Earlier this year, the Leonard Village Council approved a personal property tax abatement for the $3.378 million in new machinery/equipment for Cooper-Standard's plant.

That action ultimately helped the automotive supplier secure this state grant.

"We cooperated to the best our ability to help them keep a viable business here and keep people from this area employed," McDonald said.

The village president noted that Cooper-Standard has always been a good corporate citizen in the community when it comes to supporting everything from the annual Strawberry Festival to Leonard Elementary School.

"I don't think Cooper-Standard has ever not stepped up and helped with either community activities or some type of fund-raising effort," he said. "They've been a very cooperative company and we look forward to having them here for many years."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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