Many residents in the Great Lakes Bay Region, especially in Nexteer Automotive’s Saginaw County home base, expressed an uncertain outlook in 2009 when General Motors sold the sprawling former Steering Gear facility to majority ownership through a China-based company.
Steering Gear was born along Saginaw’s west riverbank more than a century earlier, so there were valid reasons for the doubts.
However, Nexteer employees, often through UAW Local 699, and management, have not only maintained community and civic involvement, but in many cases involvement has expanded.
Luis Canales, Nexteer director of global external affairs, expresses a need to build upon traditions and local leadership, but at the same time cautions against living in the past.
“Some people still think of us as GM (General Motors),” Canales says, “but we’re not [GM], Delphi, or Steering Gear any longer. We are Nexteer.”
A company, of course, must maintain basic strength in order to support local quality of life. Canales notes that Nexteer currently employs 4,700 people at its Buena Vista Township world headquarters near Interstate 75 and M-46 (Holland Road), compared to 3,000 employees seven years ago.
Nexteer employees and the company as a whole contribute to basic anti-poverty needs by donating coats, shoes, and school supplies to low-income children and teens, and by volunteering at the Saginaw East Side Soup Kitchen, the Hidden Harvest surplus food recovery project, and the City Rescue Mission, which operates in both Saginaw and Bay City. Employees support walk-a-thons for medical research, and build home access ramps for people with mobility challenges. They have rehabbed and spruced up Kueffner Park to the north at Janes and Townline roads in Buena Vista, and the smaller Buena Vista Pointe at Hess Street and South Outer Drive.
Financially, Nexteer has placed an endowment with the Saginaw Community Foundation for its Steering the Future Fund, a fund that provides grants to service organizations. And, since the turn of the decade, employees have contributed more than $500,000 to United Way agencies.
Still, Canales notes that Nexteer has a definite self-interest in one specific area of support—STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. Nexteer’s interest runs the whole K-12 gamut, including support of local and regional science fairs and robotics competitions, often in partnership with Freeland High School.
“We are making a $300 million investment in our Nexteer facilities in Saginaw. This is over and above the price paid by our investors to purchase the global business,” Canales says. “Complex, scientific endeavors are the core of our future.”