LIMA — To Greg Gebolys, working at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center is like serving his country in the armed forces.
“You have to have a spirit to do that,” said Gebolys, who’s worked at the JSMC in Lima for 37 years. “It’s a dedication.”
The JSMC, located at 1155 Buckeye Road in Lima, makes tanks and military vehicles for domestic and foreign militaries.
It is a GOCO, or government-owned, contractor-operated facility, and is operated by General Dynamics Land Systems but owned by the U.S. Army.
The unique nature of the plant makes it hard to classify by the government, and thus hard for it to get government funding.
Though it was almost shuttered by the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission, and was threatened to be shut down other times by the Army, the plant prevailed, staying open and even getting some good news lately, despite past and present layoffs.
A lot has happened for the plant in the past year. In fall 2014, Task Force Lima, a group of area government and private sector officials formed to advocate for the plant, received a final report from CBD Advisors, and the plant welcomed a new plant manager, after saying goodbye to long-serving plant manager Keith Deters.
Since that time, the task force has started to implement recommendations laid out in the final report, new plant manager Hank Kennedy has settled in and, though things have slowed down at the plant when it comes to production, funding hasn’t.
The plant’s 450 employees are making one tank a month, but they’re looking forward to busier times coming soon.
In the past year, the plant was awarded contracts with countries, including Israel, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Most recently was the one with Morocco, which was confirmed on Aug. 17 and is for $17.2 million, according to a release from Sen. Rob Portman’s office.
The contract means the JSMC will remove and dispose of 50 M1A1 frontal turret armor packages and install new ones, according to the release.
The contract was a long time coming, and was applauded by Portman, who encouraged the Moroccan Ambassador to do the program, according to a release from his office.
“This first step in the Morocco program is very good news for Lima because these foreign sales are a key piece to keeping the Abrams line and workforce ready for the U.S. Army’s future needs,” said Portman in a statement.
General Dynamics Land Systems said it is too early to discuss the contract, and declined to comment.
In December, the plant got a $99.7 million contract with the Saudi Arabian government to make Abrams tanks. The contract was an extension of work started between the plant and the government in 2008.
In May, GDLS got a $295 million contract to produce the Namer, a heavily armed personnel carrier, from the Israeli Ministry of Defense. It will last through 2021.
In February, the U.S. Army renewed a contract worth $49.7 million with GDLS to update M1A1 Abrams tanks to M1A2 systems. Some, but not all, of the work will be done in Lima.
The plant employs several different types of workers, including welders, assembler fitters, people who test the equipment and all types of engineers, Gebolys said.
Gebolys is a troubleshooter at the plant and is called out if there’s a problem on the floor. He didn’t start as a troubleshooter and even had to go back to school to get the skills necessary to do the job.
Working at the JSMC is very skills-based, Gebolys said.
“It’s a whole different process,” he said.
Some of the work is automatic, some mechanical and some is done by hand. But it’s all very specialized and takes constant training and learning, he said.
“There’s a lot of different systems you have to understand,” Gebolys said. “It has to be right the first time.”
There aren’t nine months or a year of training, instead, there’s training every day of the job, even after 37 years working there.
“You train every day until the day you retire,” Gebolys said. “It’s a constant thing … You gotta be right there all the time.”
More recently, threats to shut the plant down subsided, and the Army and the government began to invest in the plant.
Most notably, it seems, the JSMC reached what Plant Commander and Lt. Col. Matthew Hodge called a “decent milestone” in August, and said it shows the Army is fully committed to the facility.
The Army invested $6.6 million in a machine for the plant, its first investment in 10 years, Hodge said in August.
The federal investments began back in December, with Portman pulling for funding for the JSMC during discussions of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, then signed by the president. It allocated about $850,000 for different programs at the plant.
Then, in February, President Barack Obama’s budget proposal had more than $445 million set aside for Abrams tank modifications and $660 million for the Stryker, both made at JSMC.
In June of this year, the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act passed the Senate with $371 million to go to research and development and the purchase of 81 Stryker vehicles with upgrades. Some of the work will be done in Lima.
March brought the announcement of a $2.3 million investment from the Army, in order for the plant to do upgrades.
This month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Energy Savings Performance Contracting Program visited to see if it can help the plant save money in the future. The JSMC applied for the program and got in. Now, it’s waiting for private energy companies to come back with proposals to upgrade the plant, which will be funded by the company chosen.
TASK FORCE LIMA’S CONTRIBUTION
Task Force Lima, a group of local officials that meets monthly and is dedicated to keeping the facility open, has pursued several different ways to keep the plant open.
From hiring advisors to consult on the future of the plant, to procuring a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment to fund workforce strategies to making sure it caught the attention of a state commission on military jobs, the task force has worked this year to keep the plant viable.
In June, Lima Mayor and task force co-chair David Berger said he thought the task force’s work was “beginning to pay off.”
The task force took recommendations on how to sustain the plant’s future from CBD Advisors’ Ret. Maj. Gen. Matthew Kambic and then started to implement them throughout the year.
Phase one of the OEA grant is complete, with an action plan formed, and a proposal for phase two was sent in.
And Denny Glenn, a JSMC retiree, was nominated and then named to the Ohio Federal Military Jobs Commission in August.
After concern that the commission, created to develop and maintain a strategy for retention and growth of federal military facilities, wasn’t representing the JSMC, the task force worked to get Glenn on it and succeeded.
Veterans have come the plant to thank employees for their work, and to tell them that they’re alive because of what the employees did and made, Gebolys said.
“That’s the kind of feeling everybody here has,” he said. “They put faith in the things we did. It’s the patriotic feeling we have here.”
Employees at the JSMC are “proud of what we do and what we build and who we serve.”
And they think about it everyday.
The employees have pride in what they do like a “mother has pride in her son.”
People at the plant are dedicated to making tanks, Gebolys said.
“That’s why people stay here so long. They like the work and the work environment,” he said.
“If you’re dedicated, patriotic and you try to do a good job, try to do the right thing, this is the place for you,” he said.
Reach Danae King at 567-242-0511 or on Twitter @DanaeKing.