Five years ago, Chrysler Corp. announced that it was keeping Jeep production in Toledo and would invest $1.2 billion for a new factory and for upgrading its existing facility. The automaker's decision was based on the quality of the workforce, the cooperation it had received from Toledo and Lucas County governments, and the strong support the company got from the administration of then Ohio Gov. George V. Voinovich.
Voinovich was well aware that Chrysler was being aggressively courted by other states and he let it be known that Ohio would develop an economic incentive package that would be as good as, if not better, than any other on the table.
The rest, as they say, is history -- living history. That's because the Chrysler experience gave Ohio the edge when it came time to court General Motors Corp., which had announced that it was looking for a site to produce the next generation of the highly successful Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire built at its huge complex in Lordstown.
Once it became clear that GM was shopping around for a location, Voinovich put the Mahoning Valley in play by making the following statement to company executives in Detroit: The state's offer of an incentive package similar to the one provided to Chrysler would be available only if the new compact cars were produced in Lordstown.
That commitment to the Valley may well have been a defining moment in GM's decision-making. After all, it saw how successfully Chrysler had established its new production in Toledo and was aware of the benefits of forging a working relationship with the state.
And the company found out early in 1999, when Bob Taft was sworn in as governor and Voinovich took a seat in the United States Senate, that the two veteran Republican politicians shared the belief that state government had an important role to play in the economic revitalization of the Mahoning Valley.
There was a seamless transition from one administration to the next with regard to the GM project. Indeed, Taft retained the services of Michael Koren, who had been Voinovich's development pointman, and also kept two key members of the regional development staff, Julie Michael and Dr. William Binning. Such continuity was important not only because of the knowledge these individuals possessed, but because GM officials had established a close working relationship with Koren and Michael.
It is not surprising that the economic incentive package developed by the Taft administration for GM turned out to be just as lucrative in terms of the dollar-to-job ratio as the Chrysler package.
Thus it was appropriate that both Taft and Voinovich were on hand for GM's announcement last week that it will invest more than $500 million to create a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at Lordstown for the new compact models.
But the importance of Ohio's involvement in the project goes beyond low-interest loans and tax abatements. It means a strengthening of the ties between state government and the Mahoning Valley. Indeed, the new production system that GM will implement parallels Gov. Taft's Third Frontier initiative that aims to provide Ohio's manufacturers with the latest in technology.
As the new plant goes into operation, the state should offer research and development funds to institutions such as Youngstown State University to work with GM in fine-tuning and even improving the manufacturing process.
In addition, the state can play an important role in helping suppliers of the parts for the new cars set up their businesses in the vicinity of the GM Lordstown complex.
The Mahoning Valley and the state of Ohio are now inextricably tied together. As the page one headline in the Aug. 14 edition of The Vindicator put it, "Thanks, GM."