When it was deciding where to build its new compact car, General Motors Corp. made a point of saying it would push politics aside and use strictly commercial criteria.

So Tennessee's three top officials were astonished last month, in a meeting with GM, when they were told the first two criteria were "community impact" and "carbon footprint" -- or how the choice would affect unemployment rates and carbon-dioxide emissions.

"Those didn't strike us as business criteria at all," said Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, who was joined in the meeting by fellow Republican Sen. Bob Corker and the state's Democratic governor, Phil Bredesen. Those factors, Mr. Alexander said, "seemed odd for a company struggling to get back on its feet."

On June 26, after a monthlong competition, GM tapped an existing factory in Orion, Mich., pushing aside competing plants in Spring Hill, Tenn., and Janesville, Wis.

All the sites had merits, but the Michigan plant had additional attractions. It is embedded in a struggling state that is a Democratic stronghold. The Orion site, 35 miles from GM's Detroit headquarters, is also close to tens of thousands of current and former United Auto Workers union employees, whose pressure previously helped persuade GM to scrap plans to build the car overseas.

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