General Motors Corp. is planning a consolation campaign to soothe the feelings of several thousand state and local officials whose communities have fought for, but will fail to get, the company's highly touted Saturn Corp. manufacturing complex.
GM will send emissaries to governors and other elected officials in possibly 36 states to break the bad news before the good news -- where the proposed complex will be located -- is announced, officials said.
GM officials who acknowledged the existence of the consolation project said that it makes good business and political sense.
The company sells vehicles in all of the states that will not get the Saturn complex, company officials noted, and GM wants to make sure it does not behave in any way to cause regional hard feelings that could affect new car and truck sales.
Thirty-seven states have been considered as sites for the Saturn project, GM's ambitious $5 billion program to revolutionize small-car production in America. In all, an estimated 1,000 applications -- many of them highly sophisticated documents backed by research costs in excess of $200,000 -- have been filed by communities in quest of the plant.
"You can't just send those people a letter saying, 'Sorry, you didn't get it,' " said one GM official who did not want to be identified.
"We feel that we have to do something more. You'd be surprised at the level of effort and sophistication involved in these applications. A lot of these applicants did a lot of work," the GM official said.
Other company sources said GM has never mounted a similar campaign of consolation. But this is the first time in the company's 77-year history that one of its proposed plants has been subject to a nationwide bidding war, they said.
The New York state legislature, for example, last week approved a measure that would allow the Saturn plant to use 100 megawatts of free hydroelectric power annually for 20 years -- a total energy cost saving of $1 billion over the period.
That kind of offer has prompted criticism from GM's veteran nemesis, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who said that the big car company is misusing its clout to wring cost concessions.
GM has denied that charge, and so have many of the applicants. Some towns, such as Sherman, Tex. -- often rumored to be a leading contender for the Saturn complex -- have not offered any direct incentives to GM. Many localities simply took a close look at the Saturn complex's long-term needs and designed their proposals accordingly, GM officials said.
Those needs include access to a huge water supply, proximity to an aluminum smelting plant, availability of low-cost transportation, a pro-business local tax structure, a highly skilled and/or highly trainable labor pool and a community that has had experience in dealing with a racially integrated work force.
GM has completed nearly all the analyses and reviews needed to choose a Saturn site. Top GM officials say they expect an announcement early this month.
There was some speculation that the GM board of directors would approve a Saturn site today at its regularly scheduled monthly meeting here. But the day-long session on the 25th floor of the General Motors Plaza building ended with no indication that a site had been chosen or approved.