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Clinton To Visit Opel in Germany

May 13, 1998

BERLIN (AP) _ One of the first foreign infusions of cash into former communist East Germany came from the United States _ a $675 million investment by General Motors’ Opel subsidiary in an old, sluggish auto factory.

Eight years later the plant is thriving, setting such a strong example of the success of foreign investment that President Clinton chose to visit it Thursday to emphasize the importance of economic ties between Germany and the United States.

Since German unification in 1990, U.S. companies have invested $7.4 billion in the former east _ the region’s largest foreign investment.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl, in a speech Wednesday night, noted with gratitude that American companies have created 60,000 new jobs in the former east, where unemployment is a staggering 19.4 percent, more than twice the rate in the western part of the country.

The Opel plant Clinton visits Thursday employs 1,980, and a total 5,000 jobs in the immediate region have been created in industries the plant supports.

Built on the grounds of East Germany’s outdated Automobilwerke in Eisenach, 160 miles southwest of Berlin, Opel’s computerized facility is Europe’s most modern auto plant. Production time is a swift 20 hours per car, compared with the 36-hour European average.

Even before East and West Germany were unified in October 1990, Opel had arranged to have its Vectra models assembled in Eisenach. The first Vectra rolled off the assembly line just two days after Germany was unified.

Later, Opel built its modern facility and retrained workers _ used to building the communist-era two-cylinder Wartburg _ in the ways of the assembly-line-based production.

``They were very well-qualified. They just didn’t have the team work and communication skills for line production,″ said Opel spokesman Bruno Seifert.

They learned quickly. During the first full year of production, the plant delivered 150,000 cars. The forecast for 1998 is 178,000 units of the Corsa and Astra models.

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