RACER Event Focused on Jobs, Redevelopment Draws More Than 200 to Willow Run
More than 200 private investors, consultants, public officials, remediation experts and economic development leaders gathered at the historic Willow Run Powertrain Plant on June 20 to learn about and discuss opportunities for job creation and revitalization at former General Motors properties in 14 states.
The meeting, sponsored by the RACER Trust, featured a keynote address by Jay Williams, Executive Director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers; panels on RACER’s redevelopment initiatives and cleanup activities at 89 former GM properties, including participation by Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response; information displays on select RACER properties; and abundant networking opportunities.
Willow Run, where the iconic Rosie the Riveter worked during World War II, is among the properties shed by GM as part of its 2009 bankruptcy. The RACER (Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response) Trust was created last year by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to clean up and position for redevelopment properties and other facilities owned by GM before its bankruptcy. When the RACER Trust was formed, it owned more than 44 million square feet of industrial space in 14 states, principally in the Midwest and Northeast.
Already, RACER has sold 19 properties, including five for $2 million or more.
Willow Run, the largest of the former GM manufacturing facilities at more than 5 million square feet, produced 82 million automotive transmissions. It currently serves as RACER’s headquarters.
RACER’s mission is both to clean up legacy contamination where necessary and to prepare the properties for economic renewal. Potential for job creation and other local benefits, the views of the community and the ability to carry out safe, effective and efficient cleanups are among the criteria RACER considers when evaluating sales and redevelopment opportunities.
“RACER has a great challenge in front of us, but we have a greater opportunity,” said Elliott Laws, RACER’s Trustee. “And with the help of many of the people in this room, I think we’ll meet both. Everyone on the RACER staff views this not just as a job but as participating in something that will help people. There’s a little spark in all of us who recognize that we’re doing something special. We recognize that the communities that we’re dealing with have gone through something that is nothing short of disastrous, and we’ve got an opportunity with each one of our sites to try and make it a little better.”
Michael Hill, RACER’s Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel, said RACER’s focused mission enables it to deal transparently and efficiently with all stakeholders — investors, community leaders and regulators.
“The RACER Trust is dedicated to doing the cleanup and has no competing alternatives or incentives whatsoever,” Mr. Hill said. “Our only purpose here is to clean up and redevelop these properties, and bring jobs and other community benefits.”
Mr. Williams, the former Mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, praised RACER for its efforts to partner with community leaders in determining future uses for local properties.
“The RACER Trust gives local communities the opportunity to participate in designing the strategy for repurposing these properties in accordance with their specific development objectives, using the funds to properly clean them up and quickly return them back to productive use,” Mr. Williams said.
Mayor Dayne Walling of Flint, Mich., who participated on the redevelopment panel, said, “The RACER Trust really was able to hit a reset button and start new relationships so we knew that the sites (in Flint) were going to have aggressive cleanup plans first and foremost, and then we were going to have an honest and genuine dialogue about what the proper purpose of these sites would be. The RACER team has been very accessible, very engaged and very helpful in terms of providing information and feedback, and we’ve made more progress in the last 12 months or so on our Buick City corridor, our largest concentration of former GM sites, than had been made in the 10 to 20 years before that.”