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GM to shut down fuel-cell research facility in Honeoye Falls

General Motors Co. plans to move its fuel-cell research operation from Honeoye Falls to Pontiac, Mich., the company told employees Friday.

The majority of the 220 people who work at the hydrogen fuel-cell facility will be offered jobs in GM’s global powertrain engineering headquarters in Michigan, GM spokeswoman Kimberly Carpenter said. Those that are not offered jobs within the fuel-cell arena will have an opportunity to explore other GM jobs.

“The decision has some significant business advantages for the company,” Carpenter said. “One of the most pertinent reasons is that we’ll really be able to capitalize on the synergies of having that technical expertise in one location.”

Additionally, the lease on the Honeoye Falls facility was set to expire in early 2013, so the company will save some money. Carpenter expects the move to be complete by the first quarter.
“Obviously it’s disappointing news. It’s as much as anything a reflection of the global and national economy,” said Mark Peterson, Greater Rochester Enterprise Inc. president and CEO. “Major companies, global companies like General Motors, are having to make really tough decisions in this environment about how they can lower costs and consolidate operations.”

While it is unfortunate to lose the Honeoye Falls facility, it makes sense in the current economic climate for GM to house all of its fuel-cell technology, research and development in one place, given that the majority of GM’s operations are in Michigan, Peterson said.

“This is very unfortunate news for our region, the loss of more than 200 high-paying jobs in an industry that holds great promise for the future and has long been identified as a bright spot in our economy,” said Sandra Parker, Rochester Business Alliance Inc. president, in a statement.

GM had a business decision to make in terms of consolidating operations to achieve efficiencies and be more productive, Parker said.

“The fact that they chose to do that in Michigan rather than in Honeoye Falls tells me that we have to be even more urgent in our efforts to make changes in New York State that will help us be economically competitive,” she added.

Parker said lowering the cost of doing business in New York by reducing state spending, cutting taxes and rethinking some of the regulatory burdens on businesses would help in that regard.

“But we’re not there yet, so we need to redouble those efforts and move even faster so that we can declare that New York is truly open for business,” she said.

Peterson noted the move may have a silver lining for Rochester: Some 200 high-quality engineers may become available for other local companies to add to their payrolls, and may entice businesses to move to the region.

“Talent is a big reason why companies come here and now we have some available talent that is unique and highly motivated and highly skilled, so we’ll be doing some things to help effectively market the location and the site itself that General Motors will be leaving, as well as some of the talent that might be available for a company coming in,” he said.

GM fuel cells run on clean-burning, zero-emission hydrogen. Some 200 vehicles powered by GM’s fuel cells have been on this area’s roads for the past several years.

Carpenter said the move is not the end of the company’s fuel-cell exploration.

“It’s one of the technical solutions that we continue to develop,” she said. “I really want to stress that GM as a company is really focused on various technology solutions to help our customers not only reduce their dependence on petroleum, but also have vehicles that meet their driving requirements.”

(c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.


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