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Kokomo GM plant nearly ready to start ventilator production

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - General Motors expects to produce the first ventilators at a converted Indiana factory in a matter of days and officials say the safety measures being used there could become the model that gets the company's plant in Fort Wayne back open.

The company's Kokomo facility has been undergoing a rapid transition from automotive to medical manufacturing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and the nation's shortage of certain pieces of equipment.

"We're doing this in real time in Kokomo and that will be the standard the we take around the world."

Jim Glynn, General Motors Vice President of Global Workplace Safety

In an interview with ABC21 reporter Arielle Cadet on Thursday, GM Vice President of Global Workplace Safety Jim Glynn said the Kokomo project -- in a partnership with Ventec Life Systems -- is a pilot that could pave the way for other plant conversions.

He said other facilities were being brought along on the process.

"Fort Wayne, for example -- they're on calls right now learning about what's going on in Kokomo and thinking about how that applies to their facility," Glynn said. "We're doing this in real time in Kokomo and that will be the standard that we take around the world."

CLARIFICATION: An initial version of this report indicated that the Fort Wayne Assembly could be considered as a site to produce ventilators. Plant spokesperson Stephanie Jentgen said that is not expected, but that the facility was using Kokomo "as a model to gear back up" in a safe manner.

The Fort Wayne Assembly is idled -- like most North American auto plants -- because COVID-19 can spread easily among people working in close proximity.

In Kokomo, Glynn said that has been a primary concern.

To help protect people working at the plant, extensive screening, cleaning and other CDC-recommended procedures will be in place.

"We want make sure every person that enters this place to do work, whether you're an engineer or a line worker, we want to make sure we're doing everything we can to keep you from any potential COVID germ," he said. 

"Everyone's coming together and they're taking the challenge on and are really fired up. The enthusiasm, the commitment, the passion just rings through loud and clear."

The Kokomo production team is expected to include more than 1,000 workers once the project is at full production capacity.

“I have family all across the country, so (COVID-19) has impacted everybody that I know and love,” Kokomo autoworker Debbie Hollis said in a statement released Thursday evening by General Motors. “I’m grateful that I get a chance to do my part and be a part of something.

"We are modern-day Rosie the Riveters.”

Jonathan Shelley

Jonathan Shelley is the news director at WPTA TV, which he joined in 2016 following nine years in a similar role in New Orleans and previous news management positions in Oklahoma City and Las Vegas.

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