Janesville54.5°

Officials give GM ‘personal touch’

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JAMES P. LEUTE
June 18, 2009
— While protocol called for e-mails, Wisconsin officials believed a personal touch was the best way to present their proposal to General Motors officials Tuesday.

Gov. Jim Doyle made a last-minute decision and flew to Detroit with Commerce Secretary Dick Leinenkugel and Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan to personally deliver a local task force’s proposal for small car production at the idled assembly plant in Janesville.


“The governor thought it was important that we present it personally,” said Sheridan, D-Janesville.


As far as he knows, Sheridan said, competing proposals from Michigan and Tennessee were e-mailed to GM headquarters. The automaker has said it will start building the small cars in 2011 in one of three plants—Janesville; Orion, Mich.; or Spring Hill, Tenn.


A decision is expected by the end of June.


In Detroit, Doyle, Leinenkugel and Sheridan met for an hour with Tim Lee, GM’s vice president of manufacturing, and other GM executives.


“It was a very constructive meeting,” Sheridan said. “We were able to make a solid case why Janesville should build cars at that plant.”


The proposal addresses 12 key criteria that GM has said are important in siting the small car production.


It also includes a couple of incentives that are intangible because Wisconsin has not yet adopted its budget for the next two years.


Sheridan was able to insert a change in the Assembly’s version of the budget that would give GM or any other company a refundable tax credit worth 10 percent of significant capital investments.


The budget now before the Senate also would designate Janesville and Kenosha as “development opportunity zones” that would allow the state to give tax credits valued at up to $10 million over 10 years for companies that create or retain jobs there.


“We were able to tell the GM people with confidence that these will be part of the final budget, although we still have a couple of steps to go through,” Sheridan said.


One hoop likely will be the capital investment tax credit, which the Senate left out of its budget version Wednesday. Sheridan said the tax credit will be a priority during conference committee negotiations after the Senate completes its budget proposal.


Without being specific, Sheridan said Rock County and the city of Janesville “really stepped up to the plate” in adding to the incentive package.


“I’m cautiously optimistic, but you just don’t know which way they’re going to go,” Sheridan said. “Lee explained that they have these 12 criteria that they have to work through.


“What I do know is that we put together a really great package.”


Task force leader Tim Cullen said the group met Wednesday to go over the final proposal that Doyle and company delivered to Detroit on Tuesday.


“I’m very proud of it; it’s a very good proposal,” Cullen said. “It all comes down to us making the case that this plant can do something less expensively than GM thinks it can.”


Cullen said the task force faces it next critical step when it meets with GM officials on a date that hasn’t been determined. At that meeting, the task force’s experts will lay out for GM exactly how the local plant can produce the efficiency promised in the proposal.


Cullen said the meeting will be more about the proposal’s specifics than it will be about politicking for one plant over another.



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