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Champion spirit soars as company rebuilds


All employees on job as expansion is underway


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Champion Bus marked the start of new construction with an April 29 ground breaking ceremony. Pictured (left to right) are Jason Orchard and Craig Stefanko of DCC Construction; John Chase, John Resnik and Theresa Smith of Champion Bus; Bruce Calhoun and Jeff Van Camp of Creekwood Architecture and Patricia Lucas, Lapeer County Development Corporation.

May 12, 2010
IMLAY TWP. — It's been three months since a fire temporarily halted production at Champion Bus but with construction of a replacement facility already underway and news that all employees have returned to the assembly line, it's obvious that Champion's rally is succeeding.

Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new 90,000 square foot manufacturing and office facility were held on April 29. It's hoped Champion can start using the new space by late October, if not sooner.

President John Resnik said the contractors, CDD Construction of Burton, have incentives to complete the work ahead of schedule.

"Our order input remains strong, and the sooner we finish construction, the more responsive we can be to our customer's needs," Resnik said.

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The new building will actually be an addition to the existing south manufacturing plant with 80,000 square feet of work space and 10,000 square feet of office space. Champion estimates their total investment in the project will be $7.4 million.

Resnik reports that already last month, a second shift was initiated, something that requires detailed coordination, especially with employees working in smaller quarters and off-site parts storage.

"All of our people are now back to work and the effort has been tremendous. Our folks not only reconfigured the plant in record time, but they also did a great job of organizing workstations for maximum efficiency," Resnik said.

"Engineering staff has been rebuilding tooling to stay ahead of production. Materials staff has been shuttling parts from our leased facility to minimize downtime. As a result, our customer's needs are being met, although on a delayed basis, and critical needs are being addressed."

Resnik says three buses, destined for Continental Airlines, were lost in the fire and it appeared the company would not meet publicized dates for the launch of their employee shuttle service at New York's LaGuardia airport. Thanks to dedicated Champion employees, Continental received their hybrid buses in time for a Earth Day celebration at LaGuardia.

"We want to thank all of our customers for their patience as we work to rebuild. Lapeer County's economic development corporation, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Imlay Township have all been very helpful," Resnick said. "In addition to securing an economic development package to help us retain and add jobs, plans are underway to bring city water which will help the entire area."

In March, Imlay Township officials granted the company an Industrial Facilities Tax Exemption certificate and supported Champion's grant application for a water main project.

Per terms of the exemption, Champion will realize a 12 year, 50 percent tax abatement, agree to create 50 full-time jobs and maintain an annual average of 263 full-time employees over the next two years.

Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she now resides north of Capac where she enjoys working on the farm, gardening and reading.
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