New designation keeps jobs and adds $49M worth of equipment for Dana

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – One of Fort Wayne’s oldest manufacturing plants is getting some help from the city. Dana is about to get millions of dollars in new manufacturing equipment. The additions are part of City Council’s plan to make the plant an “economic revitalization area.”

Council unanimously approved the plan Tuesday night. The vote means not only getting the new equipment, but also keeping hundreds of jobs at the plant.

“You wouldn’t want to lose the jobs that are already there. Manufacturing has changed over the past 30 years.  They’re going to a more high-tech operation. They’re pulling out equipment that they’ve probably had in there for years and years and years and they’re going with a more sophisticated, and high-tech route. It really does come down to you don’t want to lose a staple that you’ve had in your community for 70 plus years and have it go to another community and then let them benefit from the technology aspects,” 3rd District City Councilman, Tom Didier, said.

Approving the money for Dana is something both councilmen and Dana employees said makes for a bright future for the company and the community.

“This is an investment in the Fort Wayne facility from Dana to support some new business that is coming to that facility. We’ve had operations in Fort Wayne since the 1940’s. It’s been a good facility for us and we are pleased that with some new business that Dana has secured that we’re able to move that business to Fort Wayne. In order to manufacture the products that will be necessary for our customers, we’ll need to upgrade the equipment. It’s a significant investment in Fort Wayne, and we think it means good things for the long-term future for that facility for Dana and for Fort Wayne,” Senior Director for Dana Corporate Communications, Jeff Cole, said.

Patty Burns and Janeen Parrish have both worked at Dana for nearly 30 years. They said the news offers something that’s becoming rare.

“We thought Dana, ever since I’ve worked there for 30 years, always was going to go out the door like Harvester. There’s hardly any non-union shops around here anymore so it’s good that it’s a union shop and it’s going to stay. At one time, we had almost what, 2000 people, and now we’re at only like 500. So, that’d be awesome to go back to 2000. It’s a good-paying job. There’s not that many out there anymore and it’s awesome for the community for it to stay and improve” Parrish said.

“We have a lot of exciting news. We have a lot of new contracts we’re building on. If we get those bids, that’d be a lot of good jobs in the Fort Wayne plant. We’ll need the equipment to take care of those jobs. It could mean new jobs for people, that’d be awesome.  It’s hard work, good pay, it’s awesome,” Burns said.

The new equipment will cost $49 million. Thanks to council’s approval, the assessed value will go down each year, essentially serving as a tax break for the company. Tom Herendeen is the union president for United Steel Workers Local 903. He’s also worked at the plant for the better part of two decades. Herendeen called the new equipment state of the art.

“It’s huge for Dana because it’s a whole new program of heavy duty Ford pick-ups and carrier vehicles. It’s a whole new platform that we’re going to be running there. It’s huge. All of the machinery is going to be new, state of the art, CNC-type machinery, high-tech equipment, highly-skilled jobs and good-paying jobs. These machines will make axles- front and rear axles- for 4WD vehicles. They’re going to go under the 4WD Ford heavy pick-up truck,” Herendeen said.

He said it shows just how far the plant has come in recent years.

“In 2007, we were down to 125 people in the plant. At that time, we were going through bankruptcy. Our plant was on the list of plants that were going to be closed, so it’s just a direct 180-degree turnaround. We’re up to 473 jobs right now, we were down to 125 then, so huge gain in people working- all good paying jobs, all highly skilled jobs, and I believe in the future, you’ll see even more people coming in with the new business coming in. This is a true success story, a complete turnaround. It is truly a revitalization,” Herendeen said.

A look at Dana’s history in Fort Wayne:

Dana’s history in Fort Wayne goes back nearly 70 years.

Dana Spicer 1942
Dana Spicer 1942

Dana was actually founded in 1903 and made a variety of products for the country during World War One and Two. It quickly became very profitable, more production was needed. That ultimately led to the building of the Fort Wayne facility in 1945. Company leaders saw the plant as an important part of Dana’s transition from building war components to civilian products.

Dana Worker in the 1980s
Dana Worker in the 1980s

For the next 40 some years, Dana’s Light Axle Products Plant in Fort Wayne hummed along however the company was headed towards rocky times. Oil embargoes along with demand for smaller vehicles hurt Dana’s bottom line. The company also ran into several labor disputes with its unions over pay and benefits. One of the worst labor disputes was at Dana’s Plant in Angola where the union filed multiple lawsuits. The company ultimately ended up closing that plant in the fall of 1993.

During the 1990’s Fort Wayne’s plant managed to survive however it did shed hundreds of jobs. By the year 2000, the once mighty plant only had about 11-hundred workers left. Financial woes for the company continued and the company ended up closing all of its Northeast Indiana plants except for Fort Wayne. Then in 2006, the company filed for bankruptcy saying it had more than 2-point-3 billion dollars worth of debt.

Dana Fort Wayne
Dana Fort Wayne

Many feared the Fort Wayne Plant was on the verge of shuttered. It now had less than 150 employees and the facility was quickly aging. Then in 2011, the company ended up  closing the Marion Plant instead and actually moved about 100 of those jobs to Fort Wayne. For now the Fort Wayne Plant appears to be on steady ground employing just under 500 people. With this  investment, the plant is poised to remain a valuable part of Dana’s production unit for years to come.


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