91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Auto suppliers recover but "choke point" looms

Michigan lost 45,000 auto supply jobs from 2008 to 2009, according to the Center for Automotive Research. 

By the end of this year, it will have gained most of those jobs back.  

Suppliers say they are hiring, but the recovery is not without its bumps.  

No one knows exactly how many auto supply companies in the state went under in 2008 and 2009.  That’s because some owners didn’t bother to file for bankruptcy; they just sent their workers home and locked up the shop.  

Sean McAlinden is an economist with the Center for Automotive Research.  He says many suppliers lost 40% of their business during the crisis.

"The suppliers were terrified.  A lot of them thought they’d go down to one plant, like one heartbeat a minute," he says.

Now, auto suppliers are having trouble keeping up with increased orders.    In some cases, suppliers downsized almost too successfully, cutting staff to the bare minimum needed to survive.  

At Michigan Automotive Compressor in Jackson, Michigan, more people than expected took a buyout that was offered in 2009.

Now, the firm's remaining workers are putting in three hours of overtime a day in some cases, six days a week.

Bridgewater Interiors in Warren, Michigan had to lay off many of its workers.  Virtually every worker has since been brought back.

Many suppliers got used to operating leanly, and they're fearful of adding new workers that they might have to let go if there is another downturn.

But in other cases, auto supply companies are having trouble finding workers with the right skills, workers they need right now -- especially skilled tradesmen, machinists and engineers.   

Despite that labor shortage, McAlinden says the state could create another 15,000 auto supply jobs this year.   

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.