As the keynote speaker at the annual York County Economic Alliance membership dinner Friday night, a nice suit was the appropriate attire.

But Ed Magee, general manager at Harley-Davidson's York Vehicle Operations, quickly admitted his line of work doesn't often yield suit-wearing occasions.

Overseeing a Springettsbury Township plant that cranks out more than 100,000 motorcycles every year, he said he typically only wears the suit to weddings and funerals.

So it was no surprise that, just moments after he was introduced, Magee changed into something a little more comfortable--his leather Harley-Davidson jacket.

The story he began to tell revealed that changing the course of a local manufacturer wasn't nearly as simple as changing his clothes.

"We were taking down 77 years of manufacturing history, but we were also creating a new future," Magee said.

In 2009, Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc. almost shut down the local operations. But union workers agreed to cutting 50 percent of the workforce and more work-rule flexibility in exchange for the bike maker's $90 million commitment to the plant, keeping the company in York.

"Every manufacturing process has changed. The way we build bikes has changed," Magee said.

Since 2010, Harley razed buildings at its 58-acre West Campus site and consolidated all operations into its Softail plant.

That old campus was given to the York County Industrial Development Authority for $500,000 through a state infrastructure development grant.


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In February, the IDA signed a $4 million purchase agreement with Texas-based Hillwood Development Company.

The purchasing company is chaired by Ross Perot Jr., son of billionaire businessman Henry Ross Perot, who ran for president of the United States in 1992 and 1996.

Hillwood has not said what it will do with the property, but Harley and the IDA will share potential profits from the use of the land.

Since that campus was built in 1935, it was always used for manufacturing. The Navy was one of the entities that inhabited the property, building bomb casings, guns and rocket launchers long before Harley built the first Sportster there in 1973.

Last year, the manufacturer made its 4 millionth bike at the local plant.

Though the company has downsized to 1.200 workers and one building, Harley has been able to do more with less, Magee said.

After a three-year restructuring, the manufacturer built 4,000 more bikes in January 2012 than it did in January 2011, he said.

A company mantra, "One company. One team. One direction.," helped Harley get there, Magee said.

A video he shared with the audience showed union leaders applauding the new operating system and union workers describing the new company environment.

The culture at the old York plant was a rugged, do-it-your-way style. At the new plant, everything is a group effort, one worker said.

Magee likened it to an African proverb: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

Another change at Harley is the role of management, he said. The general manager is now at the bottom of the pyramid, not the top.

"We're focused on what the customer is focused on, which means our focus is on the men and women who are building bikes on the floor," Magee said.

It's those workers who are at the top of the pyramid and provide Magee with the best part of his job, he said.

"My greatest gift is walking out on that factory floor and seeing bikes built that are exported all over the world," Magee said.

Last year, 41,000 visitors participated in factory tours to see that work being completed, and 12 percent of those visitors were international travelers, he said.

Magee encouraged the audience and other Yorkers to visit the plant as well.

"This is your factory in the heart of York County...and you're a part of it," he said.

Walking to a Harley parked on stage behind him, Magee finished his speech by throwing his leg over the saddle.

"In 2009 the plant was going to shut down," he said, revving the engine. "In the last three years the transition has been successful. This is what York County can do."