Auto parts maker has its eyes on Michigan facility

Auto parts maker has its eyes on Michigan facility

URBANA – While one Champaign County auto parts maker is on the block, another is looking for acquisitions.

Urbana-based Flex-N-Gate Corp. is interested in buying the Collins & Aikman plant in Evart, Mich., according to Evart City Manager Roger Elkins.

There's no indication at this point that Flex-N-Gate's interest extends beyond that plant to three Collins & Aikman facilities for sale in Rantoul. Those plants employ about 900 people, making them Rantoul's largest employer.

Attempts to seek comment from Flex-N-Gate on Friday went unanswered. Messages left at the Collins & Aikman plant in Rantoul and with corporate spokesman David Youngman also went unanswered.

Collins & Aikman, the Southfield, Mich.-based auto supplier that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May 2005, concluded in November that it couldn't survive. It said it would sell or close all its operations. So far only a few of its plants have learned their fates.

The Collins & Aikman plant in Evart makes bumpers and fascias, mostly for Chrysler Corp., Elkins said. It employs about 500 people.

Collins & Aikman did "show and tell" presentations of the plant for several prospective buyers, and Flex-N-Gate made additional inquiries afterward, Elkins said.

"Going back at least a month ago, they had people up here looking at the facility and talking to people from Collins & Aikman," he said.

United Auto Workers Local 2270 approved a concessions package last week that would reduce pensions, insurance and pay at the plant, according to a story last week in the Cadillac (Mich.) News.

A recording on UAW Local 2270's phone number said the vote was 283 to 157 with two spoiled ballots.

The Collins & Aikman plant is the largest employer in Evart, a city in north central Michigan with slightly fewer than 2,000 people, Elkins said.

The plant has been around since the early 1950s, first as a Kelvinator plant, then as an American Motors facility. Chrysler Corp. acquired American Motors and sold the plant to Textron, which in turn sold the facility to Collins & Aikman.

Elkins said the city has had "initial discussions" with Flex-N-Gate about possible tax abatement for the plant, but added, "We have not received any formal proposals at this point."

Elkins said he understands that Flex-N-Gate is looking at additional auto-related concerns in Michigan, but those are not Collins & Aikman plants.

"Essentially we've been pleased and excited about this," he said. "They (Flex-N-Gate) appear to be an excellent company with good reputations in the communities they're in."

Elkins said any sales by Collins & Aikman must be approved by the bankruptcy court.

"I'm assuming we're at least a month out before anything would happen," he said.

The Collins & Aikman plants in Rantoul make instrument panels and interior and exterior trim for vehicles. One of the plants is in the village's industrial park west of Rantoul on U.S. 136. The other two are in the Rantoul Aviation Center industrial park.

Rantoul Village Administrator David Johnston said Collins & Aikman has hosted tours of the Rantoul plants for interested investors. But Johnston didn't know whether Flex-N-Gate had any interest in the plants.

"I have no idea if they're one of the companies going through the tours or not," he said. "We're ready to work if there's an interested party."

Flex-N-Gate, which produces bumpers, running boards and other parts for vehicles, has 46 manufacturing facilities in the United States, Mexico and Canada, according to its Web site.

Those include the Flex-N-Gate and Guardian West facilities in Urbana, Bumper Works in Danville, a Flex-N-Gate plant in Covington, Ind., and a MasterGuard plant in Veedersburg, Ind.

A few of Collins & Aikman's 40 plants have already learned their fate. On Jan. 5, the Detroit News reported that five plants in farflung locations would close by March 28 because the company didn't think it could find a buyer for them. Those included plants in Americus, Ga.; Dover, N.H; Farmington, N.H.; and Scarborough and Gananoque, both in Ontario, Canada.

The Americus plant was one of three Collins & Aikman plants ranked among the top 10 plants in the nation by IndustryWeek in 2002. A Collins & Aikman plant in Rantoul was also on that list.

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