Adios, Auto Industry. Is this the Death of California’s Manufacturing Sector?

The last major auto plant in California has closed today.  NUMMI, a joint project between GM and Toyota, was eventually shifted entirely to Toyota when GM pulled out of the deal.  Toyota has decided that it does not need the plant on its own.

Toyota Motor Corp. has decided to close its auto plant in the Bay Area city of Fremont early next year, eliminating about 4,700 jobs and bringing large-scale automobile production in California to an end.

Executives of New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., the joint venture Toyota set up with General Motors Corp. in 1984 to operate the sprawling assembly plant, told its workforce this morning that the plant would shut down in March, according to a union member who attended the meeting. (LA Times 8/27/09)

Other than a few small auto parts plants and minor facilities, like Tesla’s new facility in the bay area, the auto industry has almost completely left California.  Now, we were never a huge auto manufacturing state relative to our size, but this is a landmark.  However, it is symbolic of our ailing manufacturing sector.

If California is to really recover from the last 3 boom-bust cycles, we are going to need to build a truly balanced economy. We can’t build it on real estate or computer programmers alone, we need it all.  And a key part of that is a vibrant manufacturing sector.

Now, some of this will come with the “green jobs” expansion, but green jobs alone probably won’t provide California enough of a manufacturing sector to really create a balanced economy. One would suppose that this is why politicians like John Garamendi were falling all over one another to get NUMMI to stay. They realize that this is a very real issue.

In order to create real meaningful manufacturing sector jobs, we’ll need to provide companies with what we have always done well here in California: providing a qualified and abundant workforce and a good infrastructure. However, with the recent budget cuts, we are growing increasingly in danger of falling behind in both areas.

The way to really build a solid manufacturing sector isn’t to engage in the race to the bottom that some states engage in, but rather to provide an excellent value with excellent resources. California can do that, but we can’t keep slashing and burning through our state government and expect to stay competitive.

5 thoughts on “Adios, Auto Industry. Is this the Death of California’s Manufacturing Sector?”

  1. That plant is perfectly located for conversion into a train-making facility. It is linked to the national railroad network by its own tracks. Lots of room on the floor to make both light rail, street car and high speed traincars.

    In a state that actually gave a shit about economic recovery we’d be seeing a big push to make this happen.

    Instead Republicans are happy to just let the plant close and say “fuck off” to the workers, their families, and the businesses that depend on the plant to survive.

  2. The California manufacturing sector is hardly near death as Cali was the number 1 state in 2008 in terms of total output.  That is down from the 2000 high in real dollars, but there are several states that are down much more.  (Per capita numbers could be worse, but I’m not going through that exercise at this hour.) I’m not saying concern isn’t warranted, just that the situation isn’t dire – so far.  (Also, California would be one of the primary destinations for on-shoring if the dollar falls to its proper value against the yuan, but that’s a non-local issue.)

  3. rolling stock from other nations/ other states?

    Surely there’s enough of a market here to keep a bus factory in operation – we have stringent air quality rules, need for updated buses, and more buses/streetcars.

    We should have the resources to produce them – if we can build cars, then why can’t we build our own buses and trains?

  4. don’t forget why NUMMI was created in the first place.

    GM was to close the plant in the 80s . They were all set to send the jobs to Mexico or wherever, and it was only through lots of tax goodies and other things that the Toyota/GM deal was set.

    It was never a super great deal for Toyota, and the cars they jointly produced were so-so for the most part (the old Nova, the Pontiac Vibe, Toyota Matrix).

    There was no reason to expect that plant to stay open forever, and given that even Toyota has problems now, it is not surprising they decided to pick up sticks and go elsewhere now that GM is in the toilet.

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