Auto parts supplier Flex-N-Gate Corp. has committed to hiring Detroiters first for the 400 jobs the company is creating with the construction of a new plastics and metal parts plant in the city's I-94 Industrial Park that's expected to begin early metal-stamping production by April.
"That's our commitment," Flex-N-Gate owner Shahid Khan said Jan. 22 after giving Mayor Mike Duggan a tour of the 450,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.
Khan said starting wages for the jobs would be announced at a later date.
But the Pakistani immigrant and billionaire owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars voiced support for a $20-per-hour national minimum wage.
"I believe to break the cycle of violence or poverty we need to do that," Khan told reporters. "That probably would be a living wage that would give people the money where it's more productive to do that than resort to other things."
Khan said employees at his company's existing plants in Allen Park, Royal Oak and Warren are paid "close to" a minimum wage of $20-per-hour "plus benefits."
"We've always paid health care for employees, going back a long time," he said.
The nonprofit group Focus: Hope will train Flex-N-Gate hires through the city's Detroit At Work workforce development program.
As of Jan. 22 afternoon, Flex-N-Gate had posted 20 jobs at the Detroit plant on its website, with open positions ranging from forklift drivers to press technicians and engineers and supervisors in welding, tooling and maintenance.
"It's more brainpower, less muscle," Khan said of the available jobs.
Flex-N-Gate is under no obligation to hire all Detroiters, as the company will have specialized positions in advanced manufacturing processes, Duggan said.
"I don't know if 100 percent is realistic, but what I've asked, as I always ask, is that you take your first shot," Duggan said. "If you can fill the jobs with Detroiters, we try to do that first. But if you need to get skills that we don't have here yet, Mr. Khan is going to run his company efficiently and we're going to keep training the next generation."
Flex-N-Gate is spending $160 million on the new manufacturing facility. It's the largest newly-built auto parts plant to be erected in Detroit in more than 20 years. Construction companies broke ground on the new plant in April 2017.
The plant will have metal stamping presses and injection molding machines for parts Flex-N-Gate is building for Ford Motor Co. for a new vehicle that goes into production in October, said Bill Beistline, vice president of global procurement for Urbana, Ill.-based Flex-N-Gate.
Southfield-based construction firm Barton Malow is expected to begin erecting six stamping presses this week.
Work with the new injection molding presses will start by October, Beistline said.
Walsh Construction Co. is the general contractor for construction of the new manufacturing plant.
Flex-N-Gate employs 23,000 across 62 manufacturing facilities and nine engineering and development sites across the U.S. and abroad.
The auto supplier also received a $500,000 performance-based state grant in 2017 to open a $2.2 million research and development center in Sterling Heights, Mich.