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Auto slowdown impacting Carolina workforce

A manufacturer of automobile axles in Catawba County is laying-off 28 percent of its workers in the latest sign that the economic crisis - and a slowdown in the auto industry - is having a major impact on the Carolinas. The Getrag plant in the town of Maiden makes parts for GM and Chrysler - both of which have shut down production in North America because of the credit crunch and global economic crisis. Getrag CEO Friedemann Strasser says 141 workers at the Maiden plant are being let go because of a simple equation: "When the car makers quit building cars, the parts makers don't have to make parts anymore." Strasser hopes bailout money from the federal government will create enough demand to bring Getrag's North Carolina facility up to decent production levels by February. But it's clear the impact of the slowdown has only begun for the Carolinas. The Charlotte Regional Partnership says auto parts manufacturers employ more than 53,000 workers in the region, supplying the Big Three automakers, as well as nearby plants for BMW, Volvo, Honda and Freightliner. Charlotte Regional Partnership vice president Kenny McDonald says the entire industry is suffering - and it's a big concern for the Carolinas. "We're trying to reposition ourselves in some other industries - the energy field, the medical device field - those kind of things that maybe require the same skills that those people in the automotive filed has so they can continue to work," says McDonald. "But the automotive slowdown just has a lot of impact - particularly at a community level." That's true in Catawba County, where Getrag has been a major source of jobs and unemployment is now close to 10 percent. It's also true in Gaston and Rowan Counties, which lost more than 2,000 auto parts manufacturing jobs in 2008.