Magna to invest in Benzonia plant

BENZIE COUNTY – It's been three months since Magna International of America Inc. took over struggling Continental Industries in Benzonia, retaining some 85 jobs.

And now, the stage has been set for an even brighter future for the auto supplier.

In June, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA) approved tax incentives for the company to expand.

Its wholly-owned subsidiary, Magna Exteriors and Interiors USA, plans to invest approximately $14.4 million to restructure and upgrade Continental Plastics Co.

Magna will consolidate the majority of business at Continental's existing locations in Benzonia and China Township (St. Clair), and create jobs at an existing facility in Howell.

Magna International purchased the China Township plant, Continental Coatings, in May, but closed plants in Fraser and Chesterfield, as well as one in Georgia. It has no plans to reopen the plant in Georgia, a company spokesman said in late August.

The project is expected to create up to 333 direct new jobs, resulting in a state tax credit valued at $1.5 million over the next three years, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

Magna Exteriors and Interiors chose to keep production and employment in Michigan, the MEDC noted, as opposed to integrating production into other Magna Exteriors and Interiors locations in other states.

"This type of investment in our community boosts our local economy from both a jobs-retained-and-created perspective and improvements to the facility," says Mary Carroll, president of the Benzie County Chamber of Commerce and Benzie County Visitors Bureau. "We're pleased to see the progress Magna has made and look forward to their continued growth in Benzie County."

The Benzonia plant, renamed Magna Interior Trim Components after the buyout, produces cut-and-sew door armrests, bolsters and uppers, floor console lids, and other cut-and-sew commercial products to a wide range of customers, including General Motors.

Magna officials couldn't provide information on current production or the future of the Benzonia operation, but commented on its advantages.

"We have found the Benzonia team to be very experienced, knowledgeable and committed to both their specialized business and the geographical area," says Peter Goguen, VP of interiors operations for Magna Exteriors and Interiors. "They've met and achieved every challenge brought forward, and this performance and culture will undoubtedly lead to more opportunities in the near- and long-term future for this division."

The plant was nearly shuttered earlier this year as parent company Continental Plastics waded through tough economic tides. In a Jan. 13 "Notice of Facility Closing" letter to the State, then COO Russ Thomas wrote that Continental Plastics and its affiliates had been "experiencing a general economic downturn" and that the Benzonia plant would be closed.

Magna, founded in Toronto in 1957, designs, develops and manufactures automotive systems, assemblies, modules and components, and engineers and assembles complete vehicles, primarily for sale to makers of cars and light trucks in North America, Europe, Asia, South America and Africa.

It has approximately 104,000 employees in 269 manufacturing operations and 84 product development and engineering centers in 26 countries. BN