Fuyao Glass America’s Moraine plant buzzing with activity

Perhaps no single company in the Dayton region has seen quite the ups and downs that Fuyao Glass America Inc. has, all while under the microscope.

The new North American division of the Chinese auto glass manufacturer has been market-moving news since word it was coming to town in the former General Motors plant in Moraine.

Over 2,100 workers, hundreds of robots, and millions of square feet of space are buzzing at this plant that was, for years, a literal hole in Dayton’s economy, if not a figurative hole in its manufacturing-forged heart. The rebirth of the megacomplex has engendered massive interest across the nation as a Chinese company previously unknown in this part of the world has grown to a local giant. Cho Tak Wong, a prominent Chinese businessman, has grown his profile in the United States as well.

In the latest announcement, the company has said it is expanding its warehouse in Moraine, but hasn’t elaborated further on these details since they were confirmed to the Dayton Business Journal last year. In the meantime, it has continued to grow its footprint nationally, this year announcing a $16 million processing center in South Carolina that will create 70 jobs.

“They’re continuing to grow all the time,” said Mike Davis, the city’s economic development administrator. “Some of it is trying to find inventory space and in this case, an expansion on site will allow them to free up more room potentially for production.

The company’s exact headcount has stabilized around 2,100 though additional production, if it happened, would push it higher.

Not all of the headlines have been positive – the scale of the factory has drawn attention for a unionization push, and a number of safety violations and a worker’s death further contributed to the plant’s image.

Directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert put forth a documentary, “American Factory,” which covered the early days of the plant’s history. They’re the same local team nominated for an Academy Award for “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant,” which covered the Moraine plant’s closure a decade ago.

The latest is that the film debuted at Sundance and was then grabbed by Netflix shortly thereafter.

Reviews on the yet-to-be distributed film have been largely positive, but emphasize the cultural hiccups that follow as a Chinese company sets up shop in America’s heartland.

Central to that story is how the closure of the plant hurt the economy of Moraine – and while expansions like Fuyao and DMAX have gotten the ball rolling on automotive manufacturing in town, Davis said it’s no longer putting all its eggs in that basket.

“We’re better positioned than we were before,” Davis said, noting expansions of Tyler Technologies, which will add 225 tech jobs; a new Kroger with 150 retail jobs; and the relocation of Shook Construction and Premier Health’s Fidelity Home Health Care business into city limits.

The city’s standing employers have added 800 employees in a few years, and that’s before the attraction of the new companies.

“We have done a good job in knowing if a big hit happened to one industry, we would feel it but can bounce back relatively quickly; not all industries are down at the same time,” Davis said.

Jim Stevenson, supporting Instructor of Industrial and Innovative Design at Cedarville University, said it’s not unusual to see new names pop up in the automotive industry given the kinds of changes it has seen the past few years and what is expected to come.

“New players are coming into the fore because of new kinds of technology and electric cars,” he said. “We’ll see more of them working not just with the GMs of the world but places like Tesla and other startups.”

Tristan Navera