After 85 years and more than 6.5 million vehicles, Ford Motor Co. easily could have made a strong case for turning out the lights at its grimy, shop-worn River Rouge plant in Dearborn, Mich., southwest of Detroit.
Factories, like the cars they produce, wear out.
But shutting down the sprawling Rouge complex, once one of the greatest symbols of American industrial might, and replacing it with a new factory in the South or Mexico or China were not options Ford considered seriously.
So the Rouge is in transition.
Drive through the Miller Road entrance, and you'll be greeted by an acrid industrial smell that hangs over some parts of the huge complex. Rusty brown buildings, old gray smokestacks and well-worn railroad tracks punctuate an area that has seen brighter, cleaner days.
Drive to another part of the Rouge, and you'll see freshly paved roads, new white buildings and plenty of green grass.
To hear Ford officials tell it, the Rouge embodies not just the company's commitment to Dearborn, Ford's home for nearly all its 100 years, but also the manufacturing roots and the spirit of Ford.
"Our commitment to the communities in which we work and the people who have dedicated themselves to Ford were pretty important motivators for us to figure out from an engineering standpoint how to reinvent a brownfield site," says Ford Motor Vice President Timothy O'Brien. He oversees Ford's strategic development and community renewal activities.
Since 1999, Ford has been staggered by some of the toughest crises the company has ever faced. Ford has been mired in the Firestone tire mess. The company has wrestled with quality problems that forced more than a dozen recalls. It fired a CEO, dropped market share and lost billions.
But even in the worst of times, Ford has not wavered in its $2 billion plan to remake the Rouge into a flexible plant that is worker and environmentally friendly, a plant that company officials hope will be an industry trendsetter once again.