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Gestamp officially opens in South Charleston

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The deal that got Spanish automotive parts maker Gestamp into the vacated stamping plant in South Charleston came together in 21 days, the building's owner said Monday.

Gestamp officials had initially wanted to buy equipment from the plant, but Ray Park turned down the offer of $25 million in cash, he said.

"I said, 'No, but I tell you what you can do,' " Park said. "You can buy it and lease the plant."

That prompted a meeting between Park and Gestamp North America president and CEO Jeff Wilson that ultimately led the company to lease the building, buy the equipment and establish Gestamp West Virginia.

"He said to me, 'Ray, I've got to have this plant,'" Park said of Wilson. "I said, 'Fine, you've got to buy the equipment, leave it here, lease the plant. Now you've got the best plant in America -- for stamping, that is.' "

Gestamp announced in April its plans to reopen the South Charleston facility. The company, which officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday, now employs 70 in South Charleston and intends to have a staff of 100 to 120 workers by the end of the year. Gestamp West Virginia plans to have a total of at least 400 jobs and invest at least $100 million within five years, according to a statement from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office.

Officials who attended the ribbon-cutting included Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens and Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper.

Park, who has owned the building for about 40 years, has leased it during the years 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, according to Gazette reports.

Craig Parsons, vice president for business development at Gestamp North America, said West Virginia was at first at a disadvantage for getting the company to locate here. Gestamp officials had already been searching for a site for months, he said.

Parsons recalled looking at photos of the plant in brochures. They looked too good to be real, he said.

"So I came down here and I walked in and my jaw just dropped," Parsons said. "I said, 'This is not a stamping plant.' You could eat off the floors here."

The floors were just one part of the renovations Park had done when he invested $20 million into the facility. In 2007, the state of West Virginia, under the leadership of then-governor Manchin and then-Senate President Tomblin, invested $15 million into the facility as well. Park has paid back the money with interest, Manchin said Monday.

Manchin said that without the partnership between Park and the state, Gestamp and the jobs the company has promised wouldn't be here.

"This is an unbelievable plant," Manchin said. "There's nothing like it in the country."

Mullens called the grand opening "a prime example of city, state, and county government working together," the mayor said.

Mullens and the South Charleston City Council passed special tax legislation in an effort to draw the company to the city.

Council members passed an ordinance capping the business and occupation tax at $365,000 a year for companies that operate in the city for at least four years, employ at least 200 people and gross a minimum of $100 million in annual sales tax.

Tomblin, now governor, said his administration has worked to create a "positive business climate" in the state.

"Today, we're welcoming another company that's discovered West Virginia is a great place to do business," Tomblin said. "When Gestamp was looking for a place to open their new plant, they decided West Virginia was the best place in the country -- the best place in the world -- to put this plant and create these jobs."

Two of Gestamp's 70 employees are Kim Adkins, 52, of Elkview, and Melissa Quintrell, 47, of Milton. Both women do production assembly work for Gestamp.

Adkins had looked for a job for a year before being hired at Gestamp. She used to have a job as a homecare worker.

"It was a good opportunity," Adkins said of her job at the plant. "Good money, benefits -- something nobody else had ever offered me before."

Quintrell had been working temporary jobs since moving back to the region from Florida a year ago.

"It's been very exciting, especially to get in at the beginning phase," Quintrell said. "I consider it an honor and a privilege to be here."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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