Lear talking about moving jobs from Mexico to Detroit! Way to go Lear!

Southfield-based auto supplier Lear Corp. is continuing discussions to figure out how to bring factory jobs into Detroit.

Three years ago during the depths of Detroit’s bankruptcy, the odds were slim that you’d attend a conference at a local hotel and hear someone dangle the possibility of thousands of jobs, maybe, heading from Mexico to Detroit.

But it’s a new game in town, as the city works past the largest municipal bankruptcy in history. Conrad L. Mallett Jr., chief administrative officer for the Detroit Medical Center, on Wednesday told an audience at a NeighborWorks Training Institute conference in Detroit, that he was going to be attending a board of directors meeting for the Lear Corp. later that day where one of the agenda items was to discuss how to bring 5,000 jobs back from Mexico to this region.

Mallett, who is a board member at the Southfield-based auto supplier, said discussions were being held with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Gov. Rick Snyder and the United Auto Workers to figure out how to make it possible.

Mallett later told me in an interview that the effort by Lear to bring some manufacturing jobs into the city of Detroit is a “work in progress.”

“The discussions are going forward,” said Mallett, who recently was named one of Savoy Magazine’s most influential black corporate directors.

Nothing is written in stone. But it’s one of those possible bright spots as the city tries to rebuild and generate more jobs beyond the downtown area.

Presidential politics

Detroit is a hot spot on the presidential campaign trail this week. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke about trade policies, tax cuts, and the economy before the Detroit Economic Club on Monday. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is set to deliver a jobs and economy speech at Futuramic Tool and Engineering in Warren on Thursday.

Talking points for how to bring life back to the country’s struggling manufacturing communities are front and center during this presidential election. But many times the real work is done in corporate board rooms and at negotiating tables.

Lear is one of the world’s leading suppliers of automotive seating and electrical distribution systems. The global auto supplier has 140,000 employees in 36 countries.

Earlier in March, there were reports in the Wall Street Journal and Automotive News that Lear was pressing the United Auto Workers to agree to lower wages in exchange for relocating jobs from Mexico.

Speculation at the time was that Lear might be able to reopen a 100,000-square-foot plant it closed but owns in the city. Or maybe there would be options to redevelop the I-94 Industrial Park near the junction of I-94 and I-75.

Mallett said the goal is to bring 5,000 jobs here — which he says ultimately could benefit 20,000 people if you figure a worker might be supporting three others in the household.

Discussions have been going on for the last six months or so, he said. It’s not an easy proposition, given the low wages paid in Mexico. Mallett said Lear needs to make sure that its actions enhance the profitability of the company.

Auto suppliers, of course, do shift jobs around to be closer geographically to the manufacturer they’re supplying. So that can be part of the mix here, too.

Mallett was part of a panel discussion at a symposium called “Creating Places of Opportunity: Investing in Neighborhoods.” Other panelists included Detroit Regional Chamber President Sandy Baruah and Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation in Detroit.

Building economic opportunity has so many moving parts. Companies decide where to open and close factories based on the bottom line in a competitive global marketplace. But Detroit’s fledgling rebound goes nowhere without more jobs for working families. So any hint of bringing jobs here is a good one.

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