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‘He has a plan’

Auto Parkit owner, Warren leaders tour city campus

Auto Parkit owner Christopher Alan provides a tour of the former General Electric building Tuesday to Warren City Council members, including Ronald White, D-7th Ward.

WARREN — Some $9 million has been invested in restoration of the buildings making up the Auto Parkit complex on Dana Street, owner Christopher Alan said.

He expects to invest another $20 million between now and 2027, when he expects improvements to be 80 percent complete at the campus that consists of the former Delphi Packard Electric plant and the former GE manufacturing and office buildings.

Alan was in the city on Tuesday to give Warren City Council members and the mayor’s office an update on the work that has been done.

The total investment between $29 million to $30 million will not include any equipment needed for operation of the facilities on the campus. The company makes automated parking facilities.

“We are paying for the growth through the amount of business we will generate through its sales,”Alan said. “It also is being paid for from money I’ve already earned. It is about expansion of the business.”

Alan said his one goal for the city is to raise expectations.

“In my opinion, part of the struggle of bringing the town back to its former glory is the acceptance of low expectations,” Alan said. “We want our buildings to inspire. Higher expectations will drive that.”

He said the company has not applied for any government grants for the restoration of the more than 1 million square feet of buildings that will be under roof on the 42-acre property.

“We are methodically developing each individual portion of the buildings as we need them,” he said.

WHAT’S INSIDE

Alan said much of the work invested in the buildings has been basic infrastructure, including new water and sewer lines, storm drainage, removing metal columns to bring in different products, framing, electric service, restoring foundations and removing thousands of pounds of debris and glass.

New cranes, conveyors, welders and other equipment are being placed in the former Packard Electric building.

Alan said the plan is to move the vast majority of the corporate headquarters from California and other locations to Warren.

Because of the business slowdown that occurred due to the pandemic, the company is now making some products it had formerly purchased from others, he noted. The company, for example, is now making its own rollers.

“Pre-COVID, it cost us about $527 to purchase,” he said. “It now cost us about $80, which now allows us to sell more systems and become more profitable.”

Alan said when COVID-19 first hit, the company lost approximately $61 million worth of work in eight minutes. Fifty to 60 employees were in Warren. During the lowest period, the number of employees dropped to 13 . Now, it it’s about 43 employees.

“Now that orders are coming back, we expect to have approximately 100 people by this time next year,” he said. “As the projects begin filling in different cities, we will begin looking at opportunities in other countries. Our growth will be exponential.”

“Over the next five to seven years, we will occupy all of these buildings,” Alan said. “With our growth trajectory, we will have between 500 and 1,000 people.”

Alan explained that he’s had two major delays. He initially had to wait two years as the bankruptcy of the former owner of the Packard Electric buildings made it through the courts. It’s that bankruptcy that caused Alan to purchase the former GE buildings located across from the Packard Electric buildings.

Once that litigation ended, Alan, along with the rest of the nation, felt the effects of the pandemic that led many companies to shut down operations.

He told council members he’s lucky that many of the companies and communities interested in his company did not cancel but delayed their orders.

JOB CREATION

Alan said most of the people working at the Auto Parkit campus will be engineers, architects and administration workers. “It is mostly white-collar workers,” he said. “We are technology company.”

It also will be hiring welders, machinists, installers and others.

Alan said the company already is testing its parking panels in the former Packard Electric building.

“We have a lift in this building,” he said. “We will be parking cars and testing our panels to make sure they operate properly.”

Doing this here saves the company about $500,000 per project, he said. “This a massive achievement for us.”

Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, D-6th Ward, was impressed with the work at the complex. “Mr. Alan seems to be very passionate about what he is doing. I’m behind him 100 percent,” she said.

Saffold was surprised to see one of her neighbor’s daughters working at the facility as a welder.

“As I understand it, she just graduated from ETI as a welder,” she said. “He is keeping his word about hiring local people.”

Councilman Gary Steinbeck, D at-Large, said it is obvious things have been sluggish.

“He is trying to get it off the ground,” Steinbeck said. “I feel comfortable that he has a plan, and he plans to fulfill it.”

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