Also new at this year's event -- the Youngstown Convocation Center.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
BOARDMAN -- Joan Jenkins got her first glimpse of the new Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cobalt on the road this week. She was surprised to spot the vehicle on U.S. Route 224 as she headed home to Poland.
On Thursday, the sales assistant at GBS Computer Solutions got a closer look when the Cobalt made its first local, public debut at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber's annual trade fair.
She liked what she saw.
"I was sitting behind the car in traffic, and I just loved the way it looked," she said, standing behind the silver-colored four-door sedan at the chamber's Business Showcase.
She pointed out the slightly angular shape of the bumper and the center brake light. "And I love that -- isn't it called a spoiler?" she said with a grin. "I noticed the head rests in the back seat, too. That's a very important safety feature to me."
GM started showing the Cobalt at auto shows in Detroit and Los Angeles last winter. Locally, the automaker has displayed its newest Chevy at some private events and at the Lordstown plant where it's produced.
The chamber showcase was the first local opportunity, however, for the public to inspect the small car that will replace GM's Chevrolet Cavalier.
Bryan Heid, vice president of Leightner & amp; Associates of Warren, took a break from manning the labor and employee relations consultant company's trade show display to examine the Cobalt.
"It's a sharp-looking car," he said, checking out the gray leather seats and brushed-metal trimmed dashboard. "The dash and interior could compete with a Nissan. I'm impressed."
Kelly O'Brien of Girard and Tiffany Walker of Austintown, both employees at E.H. Duncan bath and kitchen remodelers, took time to climb inside the vehicle.
"I'd buy one," Walker said eagerly. "I have a [Pontiac] Grand Am, and I like it better than my Grand Am. It's really roomy inside."
William Adair had plenty of opportunity to study the Cobalt's exterior design from his company's showcase exhibit adjacent to the Cobalt display. Adair is president and an owner of Administrative Network Technologies, a computer network design and consulting company in Boardman.
"I was a little surprised. I thought it might be more unique," he said. "It's a nice car, but it looks a lot like a Toyota or a Honda."
A retired electrical engineer, Robert Petro of Boardman, stared into the Cobalt and scrutinized the body.
"I'm a detail man, and it looks like GM has done a good job with this," he said. "I drive a Buick, so I probably wouldn't want something this small, but it looks like it's nicely built."
Workers at GM Lordstown are making test models of the Cobalt now, while production of the Cavalier continues.
They'll stop producing the Cavalier in early October and will begin shipping Cobalts to automobile dealer showrooms by the middle of next month.
More than 100 area businesses participated in the chamber's showcase at Mr. Anthony's banquet center, including 23 new entries.
Among the newcomers -- a display featuring the $42 million Youngstown Convocation Center, now under construction downtown.
Shaquela Jones, a Youngstown native hired recently as marketing coordinator for the project, showed a video to demonstrate how the arena floor will be transformed to accommodate different events, including ice hockey, basketball, arena football, concerts, circuses and rodeos.
The convocation center was a showcase sponsor, along with Cboss Community Network, Cellular One, The DeBartolo Corp., The Business Journal, WKBN 27 FirstNews, Fox 17/62 and Y-103.