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Surprises Abound at Panasonic Farmington Hills Ribbon Cutting

Tom Gebhardt, president of the company's automotive division, announces a new matching fund that will benefit a local charity.

Not many ribbon cuttings include an appearance by the Detroit Pistons drum line, but Monday's celebration of Panasonic Automotive Systems' new Farmington Hills headquarters wouldn't have been complete without it. 

Division president Tom Gebhardt used the occasion to announce a $2,500 in-kind gift to the and a $2,500 gift to a fund the company will build "to seed activity in the community". He said the company has not yet selected a charity that will benefit from the fund. 

Gebhardt also pledged that the hundreds of Panasonic employees who occupy the facility will be active in the community.

"There's more to it under the Panasonic brand than what we do every day," he said. 

Gebhardt said the move into the former Motorola headquarters – a 91,000-square-foot facility at 37101 Corporate Drive, near 12 Mile and Halsted – brings all the company's automotive operations into one space. About 40 percent of the company's 600 U.S. employees are working there, and that number will grow by 20 percent.

"The entire Panasonic family is coming together to really show that level of commitment," he said. "We're not here for the short term, we're here for the long haul... We intend to be your best corporate citizen going forward."

Gebhardt said the decision to settle in Farmington Hills was not lightly made. Company officials brought employees into the selection process. 

"It's about two things in our business," Gebhardt said. "It's about the employees and it's about the customers. Farmington Hills makes that an easy decision. It's easy for our customers to get here, and it's easy for our employees to get here."

He said the city and the State of Michigan were "very cooperative" and made sure the company wasn't distracted by offers from other states. According to a March 5 city manager report to Hills council members, the company also looked at Peachtree, GA and other options in southeast Michigan.

The Michigan Economic Development Commission incentive package included a 50 percent abatement of personal property tax over a period of 12 years. The cost to the city is $31,000 and about $88,000 for other taxing jurisdictions, the March 5 report estimated. 

Farmington Hills Mayor Barry Brickner said he was "very excited" when he learned that Panasonic was coming to Farmington Hills. 

"I've been doing ribbon cuttings since I've been mayor... and this is the biggest ribbon cutting I've had to do," he said. "It's also the biggest ribbon." 

He said he has been buying Panasonic products for more than 40 years. "The city of Farmington Hills could not be more thrilled that you moved here. We want you to stay here a long, long time." 

In addition to the Pistons, another Detroit sports franchise was represented at the event. Steve Harms, Vice President of Corporate Partnerships for the Detroit Tigers, brought a Tigers jersey bearing the number 12, along with four tickets to a couple of Tigers games.

"Farmington Hills is a great place to work, and I'm sure your decision will prove to be a wise one as the years unfold," he said. 

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