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Valley should launch campaign for the Ion



Published: Tue, August 2, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Maureen Midgley's parting advice to the Mahoning Valley about the future of General Motors Corp.'s Lordstown assembly plant had a familiar ring and warrants the undivided attention of the region's political and community leaders.

"The plant knows that every couple of years you're trying to win a new product," said Midgley Friday as she stepped down as Lordstown plant manager to take over as executive director of General Motors' Manufacturing Engineering Paint Center.

And there could be a "new product" on the Valley's horizon: The Saturn Ion. The small car, now being built in Spring Hill, Tenn., is being redesigned and there have been published reports that the world's leading automaker is considering moving production to Lordstown.

There has been no official word from Detroit, but two months ago, a blog site called Autoblog reported the following: "Many of the alterations are being shuttled over to the Ion directly from the Chevrolet Cobalt, which like the Ion is built on GM's Delta small-car platform."

The Cobalt is GM's new generation of compact cars and is being built in Lordstown, which beat out several other plants around the country in a hotly contested race for the successor to the ever-popular Chevrolet Cavalier and the Pontiac Sunfire. Both the Cavalier and Sunfire were products of the Valley.

In her interview with The Vindicator before she left town, Midgley confirmed that GM is studying the Lordstown plant to determine if the Ion would be a good fit.

Air Reserve base

As for the familiar ring in her comment about it not being enough for the facility to win just the Chevrolet Cobalt, that's exactly what former Congressman James A. Traficant Jr. said many years ago when he was pushing for the expansion of the Youngstown Air Reserve Base in Vienna Township.

Traficant of Poland, now serving time in federal prison for various crimes, long argued that just having C-130 transport planes at the base was not enough because they could easily be transferred to other bases. He pushed for the expansion of the facility's mission and secured millions of dollars for construction projects.

Traficant helped transform it into one of the top C-130 Air Force Reserve bases in the country and that effort has paid dividends. The Youngstown Station was kept off the latest base-closing list because the Pentagon determined that it was cost-effective, was unique in many ways and was one of most modern as a result of the federal government's investment in it.

In talking about the future of the Lordstown assembly plant, Midgley seemed to echo Traficant's sentiment: Make it difficult for GM to shut down the facility.

How? By having multiple product lines.

Given the Valley's success at securing the Cobalt -- with enormous help from state government, led by Gov. Bob Taft -- it should not be difficult for this region to launch another campaign on behalf of the Lordstown facility.

The Ion is a perfect fit. We just have to find out what GM executives in Detroit need to make the move from Spring Hill, Tenn., to the Mahoning Valley a reality.




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