By Bertram de Souza
“Now, we’ve still got a long way to go. But there is little debate that the decisions we’ve made and the steps we’ve taken helped stop our economic freefall. In some places, they’ve helped us turn the corner. Home sales are up, business investment is starting to stabilize. For the first time in 18 months, we’re actually seeing growth in American manufacturing, instead of decline.
“I know that’s small consolation when so many people you know are still out of work. It’s going to take some time to achieve a complete recovery. But I want you all to know, I will not rest until anybody who’s looking for a job can find one — and I’m not talking about just any job, but good jobs that give every American decent wages and decent benefits and a fair shot at the American Dream. That’s what I’m fighting for every single day.”
So said President Barack Obama on Sept. 15 during a visit to General Motors Corp.’s Lordstown assembly plant.
Well, Mr. President, you now have the opportunity to put the influence of your office where your mouth is.
You say you will not rest until Americans are able to get good jobs that pay decent wages. The long-suffering residents of the Mahoning Valley will have a chance to apply for 400 manufacturing jobs that pay more than $50,000 a year with full benefits — if the French owners of V&M Star Steel of Youngstown give the green light to an almost $1 billion expansion project.
And that’s where you come in, Mr. President.
A telephone call from you to Philippe Crouzet, chairman of of the management board of Vallourec Group, Jean-Pierre Michel, chief operating officer and member of the management board, Didier Hornet, chairman of the Vallourec’s V&M U.S. Division, and Pierre Frentzel, managing director of its oil and gas division, will seal the deal.
By the way, they’re headquartered in Paris.
Why those four individuals? Because Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, whom you acknowledged during your visit to GM’s Lordstown plant, met with them earlier this month in Paris.
Williams came away from that meeting cautiously optimistic that the 160-acre site in the Mahoning Valley has the inside track for the state-of-the-art steel manufacturing facility.
However, the company is also said to be looking at sites in Houston and Brazil.
Mr. Obama, this is one of the easiest calls you will ever make during your presidency. There’s no way you can let the Brazilians get the better of you — again. Remember Rio de Janeiro? The 2016 Olympic Games? Your hometown of Chicago being snubbed even after you flew to Copenhagen to make a personal pitch?
As for Houston, Texas, remember the 2008 presidential election? The leading Red State? It doesn’t matter how much you do for those Texans, they’ll never vote for you.
The Mahoning Valley, on the other hand, is crucial to your re-election bid in Ohio in 2012.
By the way, Mr. President, it might interest you to know that Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, a former congressman from this region, has put the weight of the state behind this project.
The governor has funneled $20 million in federal stimulus money for the project for improvement of rail lines and to clean up the environmentally contaminated acreage in the cities of Youngstown and Girard. And, Strickland has made it clear his administration will do whatever is necessary to persuade the executives at Vallourec in Paris that their investment of $970 million is a very good deal.
Make the call to Paris, Mr. Obama. It’s good for the economy, it’s good for the people of the Mahoning Valley, who have spent three decades trying to recover from the economic devastation caused by the closing of the steel mills, and it’s good for your political well-being.
Make no mistake about it, if the Valley does not get the almost $1 billion project, Republicans will blame the Democrats — and justifiably so. With a Democrat in the White House, a Democrat in the governor’s mansion in Columbus, a Democrat in the mayor’s office in Youngstown, a Democrat in the mayor’s office in Girard and Democrats controlling the city councils in both cities, why wouldn’t the GOP take aim?