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GM’s $68M investment in Rochester looks to an electric future

An executive gestures with her hand at a podium during a company announcement.
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
Doneen McDowell, manufacturing executive director with GM, speaks during an event on Jan. 20, 2023, to announce a $68 million investment in the GM plant in Rochester.

General Motors plans to invest $68 million in its Rochester facility, a commitment that would appear to secure local operations – and hundreds of jobs – well into the future.

GM’s investment is two-fold. It positions the facility to continue making components for gas-powered engines. And it moves production for the first time into electric vehicles or EVs, making cooling lines for battery packs.

The EV component accounts for $56 million of the total, and already happened, with production firing up several months ago, officials said.

“Now we have our feet and both ponds, the electric vehicle market and the gas jobs,” said Dan Maloney, president of UAW Local 1097, speaking during a Friday news conference on the plant floor. “It's going to keep us solid here for years to come.”

GM’s spending is part of a larger, $918 million announcement focused on four U.S. facilities and largely geared toward future production of V-8 gas engines.

GM workers wearing union shirts applaud
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
Lori Boswell (center), who has worked at GM Rochester for 17 years, said the $68M investment announcement gives her and others job security.

Often at these announcements, the politicians and the executives take turns taking credit. But on Friday, the manufacturing floor was silent as dozens of workers gathered at the edge of the news conference. A parade of dignitaries — including Rep. Joe Morelle, D-Irondequoit — took turns paying tribute to them.

“It's hard to believe in those dark hours that we would ever envision a time where your work would pay off to the degree it's paying off today,” Morelle said.

The decision to invest in Rochester was intentional — driven by a decades-long track record, said Doneen McDowell, GM's manufacturing executive director.

“They have that engineering expertise and a very technical workforce that can execute it,” she said. “So they earned it."

The Rochester workforce numbers about 700 people. McDowell says she expects the plant to begin adding jobs as EV demand and production increases.

Friday's news conference was a mix of celebration and reflection.

"For many, many years of my life, the message was, 'We're leaving. The jobs are going. the money's not being invested here,'" Gov. Kathy Hochul said, referring to the erosion of Western New York's once strong manufacturing base. "Today says that that trajectory is now over. We are going upward."

GM expects to cease production of gas-powered or internal-combustion engines by 2035, and go entirely electric, said Gerald Johnson, GM’s executive vice president of Global Manufacturing and Sustainability.

But ultimately that will be a transition driven by demand.

So why is the company spending so much — including $12 million of the total in Rochester — on its next generation of V-8 engines?

“That's a 12-year or so horizon for us right now,” Johnson said in a phone interview. “That's a long journey. And we've got a lot of customers that are still asking for internal combustion engines, while we see growing demand for EVs. So we have to be able to do both.”

For context, GM plans to spend $32 billion over the next five years on its EV transformation, he said. That includes the Rochester investment.

Brian Sharp is WXXI's business and development reporter. He has been covering Rochester since 2005, working most of that time as an investigative reporter with the Democrat and Chronicle. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.