The coronavirus pandemic delayed the grand opening, but on Thursday, Dakkota Integrated Systems, a major supplier to Chrysler parent Stellanti’s Detroit assembly plants, unveiled its 375,000-square-foot facility on the site of Detroit’s former Kettering High School.
A large blue letter “K”, a restored symbol of the former school, connects the site to its past life and the surrounding neighborhood while being a recognizable landmark of the site on the city’s east side, a short drive south on Van Dyke from Interstate 94 .
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who joined corporate officials, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and others at the factory on Thursday, noted that the ground was broken in January 2020, a challenging time when covid-19 spread around the world, but that the operation had “pushed through” “and opened its doors in July.
Now 500 workers, many of them Detroiters, are working at the Kettering plant, which will build the dashboards installed in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango, assembled at the Stellantis Mack and Jefferson North plants.
Duggan noted the transformation of the area and said: “We stand on the site of a high school that had been abandoned for a decade. It now employs more than 500 people in good UAW jobs. How good is that?”
Wages at the facility range from $ 15.50 to $ 20.25 per hour, according to the company.
A press release noted that Dakkota, which has 14 facilities in Ohio; Michigan; Illinois; Ontario, Canada and Kentucky, and also supplying Ford and General Motors factories, plan to add 75 jobs to its workforce in the coming months. Second Rush, Dakota’s founder, chairman and CEO, noted, however, that the Kettering site has the potential to expand and can add as many as 700 jobs if the conditions are right.
Duggan, who praised the hiring process developed to preview Detroiters as an applicant for both the Dakkota facility and the Stellantis Mack plant, the first new vehicle assembly plant built in the city in three decades, noted the challenge of securing a car supplier factory for the city.
“These are difficult deals to do because companies like Second Rushs have a whole lot of suburban office parks to choose from,” Duggan said.
But Rush, who previously ran the car supplier Detroit Manufacturing Systems, noted her interest in Detroit and its people.
As one of the “largest Native American women-owned companies in the United States,” Rush said, Brighton-based Dakkota is focused on building a diverse workforce and creating stable employment in underserved areas. Rush said some workers she has known through her companies had never owned a vehicle or were homeless and ended up with solid careers.
“When you give Detroiters a chance, people in an underserved society,” they say, “we do not want a dividend, we want a hand up. When you are inclusive, it is transformative, all boats rise, says Rush.
Whitmer praised her as an incredible leader.
“Others are an exceptional person. She is a self-made business owner, a proud Native American woman who has created thousands of jobs and improved thousands of lives,” Whitmer said.
But Rush and others also praised the employment model that helped Stellantis when the company brought employees to the Mack factory. The early Detroiters employment window, which has now been used for other employers, also focused on getting Detroiters in the nearest zip code in a row first for jobs.
The Mack plant, Duggan noted, could easily have gone to a “cornfield in another state,” but ended up in Detroit, paving the way for the Dakkota plant. Duggan said that Mark Stewart, Stellanti’s chief operating officer for North America, actually had to override the company’s human resources department to make the then unique hiring process happen. Production at Mack began in March 2021.
Of the 3,850 people working at the Mack plant, which is part of what is known as the Detroit Assembly Complex, 2,100 are from Detroit, Stewart said, noting that 5,500 Detroiters work at Stellantis plants in Michigan.
Jefferson North, which has been down for re-tools, will resume production in the coming weeks, which will mean more work for Dakkota. In addition, a charging hybrid electric Grand Cherokee is also planned to be available for sale in the coming weeks.
On Thursday, work was underway on instrument panels at the factory in Dakkota.
Rhonda Fiero, who works with supplier quality and quality management for Dakkota, explained that the process of sending out the components can be fast. The finished panels must be installed on the vehicles two hours or less from the time the order arrives in Dakkota.
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Stewart noted that the two factories in Detroit are a good example of how the company, the city, the region, the state and the supply base can work together to strengthen society.
“You know it’s very, very important that we focus on that. It’s really, really important that we do it, and again, we have our shocks, our covid, we have our chip shortage … but we all work hand in hand. in hand to get us through it and at the same time hire people, “he said.
Although the Mack plant has received much credit for its impact on the Detroit job picture, the facility has also been hit by a downturn due to odor complaints and related notices of state violations. Discussions with state environmental regulators are ongoing.
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