Upgrades earn tax incentive for Tower Automotive plant

February 11th, 2019

By Dave Kurtz | KPC Media - The Star

A property tax incentive for Tower Automotive won unanimous approval from the Auburn Common Council Tuesday night.

The company on West 15th Street will see reduced property taxes over the next five years on a $6.55 million investment in equipment and improvements.

Councilman Jim Finchum thanked Tower’s representatives for investing in Auburn and their involvement in the community.

Plant manager Mike Morton gave an abbreviated version of a presentation he made last month to the council’s Tax Phase-In Committee.

Morton said Tower’s new investment includes $5.8 million for 20 robotic equipment in 12 new manufacturing cells, plus $750,000 for improvements to the plant such as lighting and floors.

The plant is preparing to begin making parts for a new sport-utility vehicle’s liftgate, doors, upper body, fenders and rear floor, Morton said.

With the new contract from the vehicle’s manufacturer, the Auburn plant will add three salaried positions and 22 hourly full-time jobs, Morton said. That will increase Tower’s current roster of 146 permanent employees and 14 temporary workers.

The 25 new jobs will add $975,000 in annual payroll, Morton said previously.

Producing the new parts will be a 4- to 5-year program, starting April 1 and hitting its intended maximum production in July, Morton said. He said last month that the parts will be used in approximately 340,000 vehicles per year.

With the new equipment, Tower is moving from 50 percent utilization to 70-80 percent or higher of its Auburn plant space, he said.

Tower also spent $4.1 million upgrading its three main presses of 1,000, 1,600 and 1,601 tons, Morton said. The company did not apply for a tax incentive on those improvements, because they did not create additional jobs, he said last month.

Operating in Auburn since 1985, Tower makes metal stampings for the automotive industry.

Morton said the Auburn plant ranks as a leader in safety and quality for Tower North America, recently completing one year without a reportable injury.

“Our colleagues are very engaged in the community,” he said, mentioning employee donations to a food bank and the plant’s Coats for Kids drive.

“We think we’re at the top of the industry for the area,” in wages, he said.

Tower earned a rare unanimous vote for its tax incentive by winning the vote of Councilman Mike Walter, who often objects to what are commonly known as “tax abatements.”

At the Tax Phase-In Committee meeting last month, Walter complained about glare from large floodlights on the east side of Tower’s plant.

Tuesday, Morton said the company has ordered new lighting fixtures that can be aimed downward to reduce light spillage.

“I understand that we can probably do a better job there,” Morton said about the lighting. He said the lights will be aimed downward as far as possible without compromising safety.

Walter expressed appreciation for Tower’s response to the lighting situation.

“I’m going to vote for this,” Walter said about Tower’s tax phase-in.