Cover Story: Big 3 - Big impact on the Carolinas

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

Posted by Sarah Hildmann - email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Chrysler Motor Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Thursday.  Officials say the bankruptcy will last just 60 days, until a partnership with Fiat is completed.  But during those two months -- Chrysler will stop most vehicle production and that means thousands of workers will not be collecting paychecks.  That's surely to ripple through the Carolinas, as PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson reports in our Cover Story.

Some might say when Detroit sneezes we get a cold.  The auto industry employs workers in every state - including the Carolinas.. though many may not realize it.  In the U.S., we're talking about more than 2 million jobs - from manufacturing, to parts, to auto dealers - all depend on carmakers for their pay.

Companies in the Carolinas that supply the automakers-- not taken by too much surprise by today's news from Chrysler.  For months they haven't been getting paid.. and they've been having to let workers go.

Getrag Corporation in Maiden makes gears and axles for Chrysler.. laid off 150 a few months ago.

This worker told us, "Nobody's safe."  Another said, "Right now I have two kids in college, I'm a single parent."

Carolinas companies supply the automakers with tires.  And tire cord.  Textile companies here produce fabric for car seats.  And headliners in cars.. but that's not all.

Local companies make gears and axles.  Suspension systems. Brakes and headlights and catalytic converters.

Vehicle parts production accounts for a significant number of jobs in our region.

The North Carolina Employment Security Commission says in 2008.. the Charlotte area employed nearly 5,200 at 75 sites in the transportation-equipment manufacturing sector.

So when car buying came to a screeching halt.. the ripples were felt far from Detroit.

With Chrysler's bankruptcy filing today.. it gets another lifeline from the federal government.. eight billion dollars to rebuild.. and presumably pay off suppliers.

Economics professor Dr. John Connaughton however believes with the domestic car market Chrysler and GM shrinking.. suppliers may be in more trouble down the road.

He says, "These are permanent hits. They are going to be smaller companies producing fewer cars and buying less product from their suppliers."

"Manufacturing has a strong legacy in this region."

Ronnie Bryant, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Partnership.. a group that helps lure companies to the area.. sees a silver lining.

With American automakers shrinking-- there's a chance foreign car makers to expand or set up U.S. production.. and they'll need parts suppliers.

For months, the Partnership been trying to lure foreign carmakers.

Says Bryant, "We're just accelerating now because we truly believe this is a great opportunity for an overall diversification of automobile manufacturing in this country. We're going to capitalize on that."

There's been a lot focused on banking and finance in this recession.. but the hardest hit job losses have been in construction and manufacturing.

Transportation and Equipment Manufacturing bore a lot of those losses.  Look at the number employed in the Charlotte region last fall at 155 companies, there were 13-thousand people.. those numbers have shrunk.