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U.S. carmakers need help now, Missouri's Sen. Bond says
[November 24, 2008]

U.S. carmakers need help now, Missouri's Sen. Bond says

(St. Louis Post-Dispatch Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) ST. LOUIS _ Four days after congressional leaders in Washington balked at bipartisan efforts for auto industry aid, Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond of Missouri stressed the need for approving emergency loans to the automakers before the end of the year.

The Republican senator joined local automaker representatives, suppliers and government and school officials Monday in Fenton, Mo. _ less than two miles from the idled Chrysler minivan plant _ to highlight how the U.S. automakers' troubles have affected the St. Louis area.

Bond estimated that about 220,000 jobs in Missouri depend on the auto industry, including positions at assembly plants, supplier plants and dealerships.

"We just can't afford to lose those," he said in a conference room at Lumbee Enterprises Inc., a quality-control company that works with Chrysler's Fenton plants.

Last week, Bond and a group of senators from auto states, including Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, pushed a plan that would reroute $25 billion for automakers' operations that originally was intended to retool plants for more fuel-efficient vehicles. The fund would be replenished once the loans are repaid.

But congressional leaders delayed action on any sort of aid, saying they wanted the executives to demonstrate how they would spend the money. Congress will reconvene Dec. 8 to consider the auto package.

GM said it could run out of cash by early next year without government help and a better economy. Bond said he believes the industry can't wait until next year for federal help.

"It's either going to happen Dec. 8 or 9, or we're all in the soup," Bond said.

The senator also emphasized that federal aid would put the auto industry on "sound footing" and return jobs to the state. While he acknowledged that many people called his office to oppose the auto package, he emphasized that communities and businesses would be hurt without some sort of relief.

Suppliers and other local companies connected to the automakers reiterated the trickle-down effect that plant closures and other cutbacks have on their own businesses.

Joe Clark, who owns Lumbee Enterprises, said he has cut his full-time work force to about 13 people, a drop from the 65 workers he had a year ago. His company inspects and reworks parts for Chrysler's pickup plant and the adjacent minivan plant that was idled Oct. 29.

"If the Big Three file bankruptcy, the domino effect's going to be huge," said Clark, who retired from Chrysler's quality-control department in 1991.

Allen Cassens, chairman of Cassens Transport Co. in Edwardsville, said he also has had to reduce his work force. Local employment at his company, which transports cars built by Chrysler's Fenton operations, has fallen from 190 employees to about 40 over the last year.

Cassens said he has mixed feelings about the federal aid for automakers. While he opposes government intervention in businesses, he said the purpose of a government is to "provide this safety net."


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