GM returns to its birthplace with renovated Flint factory from 1886

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"The vehicle history here is really incredible." – Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president

General Motors returned to its roots Monday unveiling a renovated factory in Flint, Mich., that's considered to be the automaker's birthplace. Called the Durant-Dort Factory One, the site is where GM co-founder William Durant began his cart company in 1886.

The building, which had fallen into decay, is re-purposed as an events space with room for 300 people, offices, and the home of the extensive Kettering University archives, which date to the early days of the auto industry.

GM bought the factory in 2013 and spent $3 million to restore the exterior – including replacing more than 17,000 bricks. The second phase saw renovations to the interior, though that cost was not disclosed.

Factory One is located near the Flint River in the city's historic carriage district. The site dates to 1880, when it was part of a wool and cotton company. Durant leased it for his Flint Road Cart Company in 1886. Flint, which has fallen on hard times due to factory closures since its heyday when thousands of GM vehicles poured out of the city's facilities, is considered one of the cradles of the auto industry.

"The vehicle history here is really incredible," said Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president of global product development, purchasing, and supply chain.

Interestingly, GM never actually owned the Durant-Dort facility until 2013 or made a vehicle there. But the company – backed by historians – says the site is its birthplace since Durant used his carriage building connections to advance Buick and Chevrolet. GM was founded in 1908.

Reuss, now the company's product czar, began his career in Flint in 1986. Wearing a Buick tri-shield lapel pin Monday, he has been the driving force within GM for the Factory One renovations. GM CEO Mary Barra attended Kettering in Flint, which was then known as General Motors Institute.

Reuss pointed to the archives, which will be open for anyone to use, as a tool for future auto leaders to learn from the past. One of the spotlight items is a letter a New York law firm suggesting the name of the company as General Motors. International Motors and United Motors were other candidates.

"It's going to serve the industry well to have a new generation of students drawn to innovate," he said in his opening remarks to an audience that included the great-grandsons of Durant and his partner, Josiah Dallas Dort. One speaker claimed Monday was the first time the Durant and Dort families had been together since a funeral in 1925.

Though GM factory closures hit Flint hard, the automaker still employs about 7,200 workers in the area and has invested $2.8 billion since 2009 in its operations.

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