Fed’s auto industry bigwig pays Queens a visit

By Joe Anuta

The federal government’s efforts to save the auto industry got a lot of hype in other parts of the country, but the man overseeing the recovery toured a College Point facility Monday to see how New York fared after the 2009 bailout.

Jay Williams, executive director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, visited the Center for Automotive Education to tout the White House’s response to the imminent collapse of the industry.

And his presence in the borough was also tantamount to a nod from Washington to Queens, according to the neighborhood’s congressman.

“When we think about the auto industry, how often do you think of Detroit? How often do you think of Ohio? How often do you think of Middle America?” U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) asked. “But what is really brilliant about today is a recognition on behalf of our president and the administration of the importance of Queens and New York.”

In 2010, automotive retail in the greater New York area generated $24.9 billion in economic activity, provided 56,000 jobs and generated $1.71 billion in tax revenue to state and local governments, according to a study released by the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, which founded the center.

In order to feed that kind of economic activity, the association created the education center in 2005. It serves as a way to create a well-trained workforce proficient in both the repair or the business side of the automotive industry, according to Mark Schienberg, president of the association. About 80 percent of graduates enter the workforce in the local area.

The association basically rents out the building to auto companies which want to use the facility for training, as well as for the Lincoln Technical Institute, which runs the repair school that serves about 700 students.

Crowley contended that the partial government takeover of General Motors and Chrysler allowed New York to continue robust economic activity in Queens, and by extension kept the association’s automotive campus churning out graduates ready for the workforce.

The congressman said, “Not only is the American auto industry flourishing and growing, but the taxpayer has earned back the money that was invested in the first place.”

But last week the U.S. Treasury Department sent a report to Congress estimating that the cost to the American taxpayer of the $80 billion bailout was projected to be $25.1 billion.

When GM and Chrysler were reformed into new companies, those reborn businesses were given loans that were repaid to the federal government.

But according to the Treasury, the federal government has recouped less than half of the overall investment in the industry.

A Crowley spokeswoman said the congressman should have been more specific by saying that loans given to the reformed auto companies were paid back to the federal government, but not the entire package used to prop up the struggling industry.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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