e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


Road Scholars, Day Two

Day two began with a bright-and-early breakfast where I loaded up on protein (eggs! soymilk!) to prepare for another packed day. We got a real behind-the-scenes tour of General Motors' Lansing Delta Township Assembly plant. No "manufacturing" there, strictly assembly. Parts arrive, ready for assembly. Consequently, the place is incredibly clean. LDT works hard to tout its green practices, both small (extensive recycling program) and large (an innovative rainwater collection system that flushes all toilets in the facility). Fun fact: the car is the most recycled product in the world, ending up in junkyards and scrap metal lots, not landfills. Another fun fact: GM and Toyota sold roughly the same number of cars last year in the U.S. but GM has four times more dealerships.

For now anyway, GM makes three vehicles at LDT: the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and Saturn Outlook. Just a few days ago, the plant went down to one shift but still employs 1,375 "team members." I was about to type something like 1,375 "very anxious team members," but, to be honest, all of our hosts seemed remarkably optimistic. So many question marks surround the auto industry, but you would never know that GM's in any type of jeopardy. Today, the Obama administration had also sent a contingent to observe operations. When asked what "take-away" they hoped the Obama folks would get at the plant, one of our guides said he hoped they would see that "there's no conflict between labor and management." The plant uses the language of co-operation: "team," etc. And yet, in today's Free Press, this story: UAW slams GM plan for depending more on imports.

The plant was endlessly fascinating and I'd love to take a group of my students there. Self-guided, robotic vehicles cruise through the factory. No drivers, just a vehicle. What an amazing site. These vehicles move engines underneath chasses as they come down the assembly line. Line workers marry the two. Radiators descend on a roller coaster-like contraption. Line workers guide them into place. Everywhere, display screens track the number of units assembled. Human and machine work aside one another. For now, they build cars. Next week, who knows? Walking by the plant store, I notice the inventory. Safety products like earplugs. T-shirts and other items that brand the cars assembled there. A bib reads, "my daddy builds Buicks." Available in blue or pink.

Across town to the State Capitol, where legislators were approving Governor Granholm's executive order that eliminates the jobs of 100 cops and 200 other employees of Michigan. The order also allows for massive cuts to social services in the state and mandates furlough for state employees. Sweeping changes to GM. Sweeping changes to state government. History, not to mention the evening news, was being written all around us today. Weird.

We troued the Capitol building, which is magnificent. The walls of the capital represent acres and acres of Victorian art. We ate lunch with several State Reps. Andy Coulouris and Jeff Mayes, both UM graduates, and both working on sustainability issues in the state. Spent lunch chatting about foreclosure crisis and learned of an initiative in which the state gives incentives to banks to provide extensions to folks facing foreclosures. The incentives end up saving the state money by keeping families off the street and they save the mortgage companies money by avoiding the expenses involved with foreclosing.

Off to Michigan State University to walk the botanical gardens and sample the famous ice cream of the MSU dairy. I let a delicious chocolate chunk ice cream digest during the pleasant drive from Lansing to Grand Rapids. Settled in at hotel and then went to dinner with high school seniors from Western part of the state who have been awarded scholarships to UM. Dinner with a pleasant young woman (happy to have plans to major in English) and her parents (happy that she won a scholarship).

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