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Chrysler raises hopes.

The Chrysler Corp's decision to build a $1 billion car manufacturing plant in a depressed Detroit neighborhood may stimulate reinvestment in the nation's urban centers. The hope is that the state-of-the-art Jefferson North assembly plant will lead to job creation and community redevelopment that will benefit minorities and other low-income inner-city residents.

The new 1.75 million square-foot plant assembles Chrysler's Jeep Grand Cherokee sport-utility vehicle, one of its best-selling models. "We didn't want to turn our back on Detroit," says Chrysler Chairman Lee A. lacocca. "The city and its people supported us for more than 60 years. Jefferson North is a testament to our loyalty and commitment to the city." The city, which is more than 76% black, has an unemployment rate that regularly hovers around 20%, nearly three times the national average.

Chrysler raised eyebrows among Wall Street analysts by going against the trend of locating manufacturing plants in lower-costing rural areas. An estimated $280 million in city, state and federal land improvements and tax abatements helped make the decision to stay in Detroit possible.

The high cost of maintaining the plant's older work force, which has an average age of 51 years, has also raised concern. But Jefferson North plant manager Tom Breneiser says the older workers are a plus because they can be trained faster and, "they're more settled and reliable than a younger group might be."

Benefits from the plant are already apparent. Victoria Park, a new development of 157 single-family homes, has been built three blocks away from the plant. "We see the plant as a stabilizing influence," says Bob Berg, a spokesman for Mayor Coleman A. Young. "You know that if you buy a new home here, you're near something that will be there for a long time. It's not a deteriorating neighborhood."

Observers say that over time, small businesses should open up in the neighborhood to service the workers and the new home owners.
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Title Annotation:Chrysler Corp.'s new manufacturing plant in poor area of Detroit, Michigan
Author:Gallant-Stokes, Trudy
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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