General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) will invest more than $1 billion to more than double the size of its Fort Wayne Assembly plant. The automaker says the expansion will include a pre-treatment facility, expanded body shop and increased general assembly capabilities. The company says it will also involve upgraded technology and energy efficiency for the Roanoke plant. GM's Fort Wayne complex employs more than 4,000 workers and produces Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks. The Indiana Economic Development Corp. offered General Motors more than $5 million in infrastructure assistance and training grants based on the expansion plans. The Indiana Department of Transportation will also allocate up to $4.6 million to assist Allen County with public infrastructure efforts.

The last major investment in the Fort Wayne plant was $230 million in April, 2011 to build the next-generation pickup truck. At the time, United Auto Workers officials said without the investment, the plant would likely have closed. Now the plant faces a decidedly upbeat future.

The GM Fort Wayne complex currently includes more than 3-million square feet and employs more than 4,000 workers on three shifts. It has long been considered one of GM's most productive assembly plants and has been recognized for its sustainability efforts. The plant has been landfill-free since 2011 and co-generates 30 percent electricity with landfill gas.

The Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance has said the plant's overall economic impact on the region is more than $900 million annually.

When General Motors executives confirmed plans to build a truck assembly plant in Allen County in August, 1984, it marked more than the start of the GM era in Fort Wayne. It ended, at least psychologically, one of the region's darkest economic chapters.

Just two years earlier, International Harvester made the stunning announcement that it would close its sprawling Fort Wayne manufacturing plant, which for decades had been the region's bellwether employer. At its peak, Harvester employed more than 10,000 at its Fort Wayne plant and some feared the area economy might never recover from such a blow.

Fort Wayne lost more than 30,000 jobs and saw its unemployment rate balloon to more than 12 percent with Harvester and other plant closures and massive layoffs at a major General Electric plant. A once-proud manufacturing center, Fort Wayne had become another rust belt city.

GM's arrival helped stem the tide of manufacturing job losses put Fort Wayne on a path to shake its “rust belt” image. While manufacturing remains key to the region's economy, it has also become an important center for the defense sector, with companies like Raytheon Systems, BAE Systems and Excellis. The region's tourism industry has experienced growth in recent years.

Sources: Inside INdiana Business, The Indiana Economic Development Corp.

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