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Detroit’s woes impact region’s parts makers

Just because the Triad sits hundreds of miles from Detroit doesn’t mean it’s immune to the ailments of the automobile industry. It has no assembly plants, but it does have factories that make car parts. And some are hurting. Statesville-based ASMO North Carolina Inc., which makes direct-current motors used in power windows and other devices by Ford, Chrysler and Toyota, will eliminate 200 jobs when it closes plants in Thomasville and Mount Airy this month. Last summer, more than 100 workers at the Blue Water Automotive Systems Inc. factory in Burlington lost jobs making cup holders for Ford. And the problem isn’t peculiar to the Triad. Last month, Wilmington-based Guilford Mills Inc. eliminated 115 jobs when it closed a plant in Fuquay-Varina that makes fabric for car interiors. Plant managers around the state watched anxiously as 2008 drew to a close, hoping Congress would help a domestic automobile industry beset by low demand.

Those are ominous developments in a sector that has become one of the state Commerce Department’s recruiting targets. But North Carolina still has more than 160 auto-parts makers that employ more than 17,000 workers, and officials won’t stop pursuing other parts makers just because a few are in trouble, says Kathy Neal, an assistant Commerce secretary. “They’re not all struggling. It’s very company-specific. Look at the tire industry. Everybody still needs tires, and everybody still needs catalytic converters.” And truck makers still need axles, so Louisville, Ky.-based Sypris Technologies Inc. plans to add 203 workers during the next four years at its factory in Lenoir, where it already employs 166.

But that’s no consolation for companies such as ASMO North Carolina, part of Kosai, Japan-based ASMO Co. David Clifton, vice president of the Tar Heel operation, says 84 workers who lost jobs in the Triad will transfer to the more-automated Statesville plant, part of an expansion that will boost employment there from nearly 425 to about 550. But he has warned them it is only a temporary solution, regardless of what happens in the automotive industry. “In two years, there will be no need for those jobs here. They’re not totally safe.”

KERNERSVILLE — Pittsburgh-based FedEx Ground Package System will build a $100 million regional distribution hub, employing 750 when it opens by summer 2011.

WINSTON-SALEM — Apparel maker Hanesbrands is cutting 155 white-collar jobs here as part of a corporate reorganization that should be complete early this year. It also planned to close a yarn plant in China Grove by the end of 2008, cutting 185 jobs. The moves will leave it with 3,255 jobs in Forsyth County and 4,672 employees statewide.

GREENSBOROInternational Textiles Group let go about 150 employees at the White Oak plant in its hometown. The cuts left about 360 workers at the factory, which opened in 1905 and once was Cone Mills’ flagship denim plant.

MOCKSVILLEIngersoll-Rand plans to erase 110 of 430 jobs here in the first quarter. The company, based in Hamilton, Bermuda, makes air compressors, tools, fluid handling and other products. It’s outsourcing sheet-metal work done here.

GREENSBOROPrecor, which makes exercise equipment, plans to open a factory and warehouse here that will employ 142 by 2011. The Woodinville, Wash.-based company received a $294,000 grant from Guilford County. Salaries will average $38,456 a year, and the campus will be headquarters of the company’s strength division.

WINSTON-SALEMTSL Winston-Salem paid $36 million to buy the Wachovia Center from Gramercy Capital Corp. of New York. It plans to renovate the 28-story building, which opened in 1995. Wachovia occupies 17 floors.

MAYODANGeneral Tobacco laid off 31 of its 126 employees. The company, which makes GT One, Bronco, Silver and 32 Degrees men- thol cigarettes and Vaquero Little Cigars, blamed the sagging economy.

WINSTON-SALEMWinston-Salem State University will repay the federal government $1.15 million over three years for loans and grants given to students who weren’t eligible.