Amador County Rallies to Save Car Dealership
KXJZ photo/Ben Adler
Remember last month’s $17 billion auto bailout? Well, on that very same day, the financing arm of General Motors pulled the plug on a dealer in rural Amador County – about an hour southeast of Sacramento, in the heart of gold rush country.
(Amador County, CA)
Monday, January 12, 2009
GMAC’s action cost the community nearly a hundred jobs and crucial sales tax revenue. But residents are fighting back – culminating in a big rally at the dealership over the weekend. And the dealer says GMAC might now be changing its mind.
Speaker at rally: “Thank you, let’s have a great day, let’s pray for Prospect Motors.”
Amador is like many counties in rural, small town America – teeny populations spread out over large distances. So when well over a thousand people drove as far as an hour to Saturday’s rally, it showed how important this auto dealer is to the community. After all, as resident Margie Strauss told the crowd…
Strauss: “The 80 people who’ve lost their jobs are our neighbors and our friends. Their children go to school with our children.”
Prospect Motors has been around for decades in this small, close-knit county in the rolling Northern California foothills. It’s one of the largest businesses in the area, and the county and two nearby cities depend on hundreds of thousands of dollars from its sales tax revenues. So when GMAC froze the dealer’s credit and yanked its cars off the lot, the impact was felt countywide. Take, for example, John Miller, who’s worked the last six years in the parts department. He says he’s probably got just a couple of months before his money runs out.
Miller: “Right now in my particular profession, there’s a lot of us looking for work, so it’s pretty tight. Also, living in the foothills of California, I tend to be at a disadvantage. There’s not a lot of places that we can work in my profession without having to drive for an hour or an hour and 15 minutes.”
That distance from other dealers also hurts residents – many of them seniors – who now have to drive an hour to get their cars fixed. And the community felt frustrated. They just saw GM just get billions from the federal government; so did GMAC. Wasn’t that money supposed to help local dealers stay in business?
So residents wrote letters to GM and GMAC. And they emailed. And made phone calls. In the hundreds, organizers say. It all built up to Saturday’s rally, which John Miller attended as well.
Miller: “The community’s really rallied behind us. There hasn’t been any offers of jobs, but there has been a lot of emotional support, and people are looking out after each other.”
And whether the letters and phone calls made a difference or not, owner Frank Halvorson says GMAC recently changed its attitude.
Halvorson: “In the last four or five days, they did a 180, and all of a sudden they wanna talk about trying to work something out, where when they took the action they took on the 16th, it was a corporate decision and there was no conversation.”
Even if he does get a deal, Halvorson still a faces a mountain of debt. But he says GMAC told him a deal to reopen Prospect Motors was ready, as soon as it’s cleared by their legal department. GMAC spokesman Mike Stoller wouldn’t confirm that. He says GMAC will continue to work with Prospect and other struggling auto dealers, but has to use its bailout funds wisely.
Stoller: “It hasn’t been – nor is it within GMAC’s capacity – to be an unlimited funds supplier to businesses that aren’t proving sustainable.”
Chanting: “GMAC got the cash; left our county in the trash!”
The Amador County residents who rallied Saturday not only showed their support for Prospect Motors, they also let their frustration out on GMAC, with signs like “Hey GM, where’s the bailout?” After three weeks of watching their community crumble before their eyes, they had finally found something they could do about it. Frank Halvorson told the crowd he’s been humbled and overwhelmed by their encouragement.
Halvorson: “I just can’t tell you how special that makes me feel. And we’re going to keep fighting. We’ve still got a ways to go. But just thanks again from the bottom of my heart – for myself and for my family.”
For one day, at least, the Prospect Motors lot was full of vehicles again as Amador County residents showed they’d stick together – even for a car salesman.