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LINDEN, NJ-Coming on the heels of Ford’s decision to close its massive assembly plant in nearby Edison in two years, General Motors’ more recent decision to likewise shutter its more than one-million-sf plant here provided a second major blow to the Garden State’s manufacturing sector. Now, state officials have managed, with the help of rising demand for Chevy pickups, to forestall the latter event at least until 2005, and perhaps beyond.

GM officially announced its decision late Monday, noting that demand is on the upswing for the Blazer and S-10 models made at the plant. Company officials won’t comment on the plant’s future beyond that, but state officials were slated to meet with GM execs yesterday to talk about possible financial incentives to solidify a long-term GM operation in this Union County city.

“GM’s decision is welcome for both auto manufacturing in New Jersey and the employees,” according to New Jersey Gov. McGreevey. “GM should be commended for its willingness to continue to work with the state to maintain plant operations.”

The decision affects some 1,200 employees at the Linden plant. That number is down from the 2,300 or so who worked here until this past February, when cutbacks slashed 1,100 jobs. Scheduled to meet with GM execs yesterday were state commerce secretary William D. Watley, NJ labor commissioner Albert G. Kroll, and businessman George Zoffinger, head of the NJ Sports & Exposition Authority and McGreevey’s special liaison to GM.

“GM has long been a valued component of the economic prosperity in New Jersey,” Watley notes. “We are delighted that GM and New Jersey will continue this important relationship.”

“We have been working closely with General Motors over the past few months,” Zoffinger noted in a written statement. “We are gratified by the company’s commitment to remain in New Jersey and we will build on this partnership to ensure that New Jersey continues to be an attractive location for GM.”

State officials wouldn’t comment, prior to yesterday’s meeting, on what kind of incentives they were prepared to offer the automaker to keep its operations here beyond 2005. Until recently Chevy Blazer and S-10 sales had been victimized by a swing by consumers to larger trucks and to SUVs. Since the February closure announcement, however, sales of the former have picked up. One goal of state officials, according to observers, is to convince GM to bring other model lines to the plant to keep it open on a long-term basis.

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