SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Spanish automotive stamping company has leased the shuttered stamping plant in South Charleston and could eventually employ up to 700 workers there, officials announced Tuesday.
A team from Gestamp, which has 120 operations worldwide, is already in the near-empty South Charleston facility.
The company, which is worth $11 billion and has contracts with "almost every" major automotive company, will employ about 175 people within 12 to 16 months and 400 to 500 within three to five years, West Virginia Secretary of Commerce Keith Burdette said. Gestamp plans to have employees working there by late summer or early fall, he said.
"They have enough space here to do a lot of things and as the president of the company said ... they didn't lease it to leave it empty," Burdette said. "They're going to fill it up and use it and if they do that they're going to hire a lot of people."
Gestamp president and CEO Jeff Wilson was out of the country and unable to attend the announcement, Burdette said.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin made the announcement Tuesday on the building's parking lot.
Ray Park has owned the building since 1969, according to Gazette reports. Over the years, he's leased it to American Motors Corp., Chrysler Corp, Volkswagen of America Inc., Checker Motors Corp., Mayflower and Union Stamping & Assembly.
In 2006, Union Stamping and Assembly declared bankruptcy after union members declined to make a round of concessions that would have substantially trimmed wages that averaged about $17.20 an hour. The plant had nearly 800 workers in 2004.
The following year, Park committed to investing $20 million toward the facility's renovations. The state, under then-Gov. Joe Manchin's administration, invested $15 million as well. Manchin, a Democrat, is now West Virginia's junior U.S. senator.
"This was a total partnership between private enterprise, state and local government," Manchin said in a prepared statement. "As governor at the time, I knew we needed to make the investments in the site that would attract a quality employer like Gestamp to South Charleston, and that is exactly what has happened.
Manchin went on to thank Park for his vision about the facility.
"These are the types of investments we must continue to make and the partnerships we must continue to form to keep our state and our economy competitive. I applaud the efforts of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, as well as the wisdom and courage of Mayor Frank [Mullens] and the South Charleston City Council in making today's announcement possible."
Kanawha County Commission president Kent Carper credited Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin with working to reopen the stamping plant. Naysayers said the building would be bulldozed and the jobs lost forever, Carper said.