By DAVID SKOLNICK
President Barack Obama didn’t come to V&M Star with money for economic development in the Mahoning Valley or an offer to provide assistance to help the area’s struggling economy.
But Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams said Obama is helping the Valley.
Just by coming to the area Tuesday to highlight V&M’s $650 million expansion draws national attention to what’s happening here and what the area has to offer to businesses, Williams said.
“There’s this notion that a city like Youngstown is to be written off; our better days are behind us,” he said. “I refuse to believe that.”
Obama, a Democrat, talked about areas like the Valley with long-standing financial struggles collaborating as a region, and receiving state and financial help to progress.
“He talks of communities like Youngstown moving from surviving to thriving,” said Williams, a Democrat. “For years, we’ve been barely surviving. At some point in the future we’ll be out of survival mode. I do believe this community can indeed thrive.”
State Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, said Obama’s visit is “a significant start of what we expect from the government and that is to help in desperate times.”
During his speech, Obama discussed the $787 billion federal stimulus package, signed into law in February 2009, saying it had to be passed or the country would have faced the serious possibility of going into a depression.
The nation is seeing positive results from the economic stimulus policies, Obama said.
Without government help, “the GM plant over in Lordstown would not be there because GM would have liquidated.”
Obama’s last visit to the Valley was to the GM complex in September 2009.
Acknowledging skepticism about his visit, Obama said: “A lot of people — let’s be blunt — aren’t always real impressed when a governor or a president comes swooping in and talking about the economy because the only headline they want to see is the headline that says, ‘You’re hired.’”
The president then discussed the $19 million in stimulus money that is going to the V&M expansion, saying “as a result of this investment,” the $650 million project is moving ahead.
Without the stimulus package, “the steady progress we’re beginning to see across America would not exist and neither would the plant that you’re about to build,” Obama said.
The expansion will create 400 construction jobs. When the plant opens, there will be 230 employees working directly for V&M and 120 contract workers at the new facility. V&M makes seamless tubes for the oil and gas industry.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, has been insistent that without the stimulus money, the V&M project would have never happened.
Joel Mastervich, V&M’s president and chief operating officer, said the stimulus money “helped propel the project forward.” But he added that “the project would have proceeded” without the money.
Also, Philippe Crouzet, chairman of the management board of Vallourec, V&M’s Paris-based parent company, said: “You don’t make such a big decision based on just a [government] subsidy.”
But he added the money was a great benefit to the project.
When asked if the company would have approved the local expansion without the stimulus money, Crouzet said, “I’m not sure we would have made our mind up so rapidly” without it.
During Obama’s speech, he criticized those who opposed the stimulus package, but never mentioned anyone by name. Also, he only used the word “Republican” one time in his 20-minute speech.
In response to Obama’s visit, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine said, “The economic recovery we were promised hasn’t happened, and the president’s policies clearly aren’t working. Unfortunately, neither are thousands of Ohioans.”
In his speech to an invitation-only crowd of about 150 people, Obama acknowledged the Valley’s 14.5 percent unemployment rate, and the struggles it faces.
“The Mahoning Valley is a place that doesn’t need an economist to tell you when a recession begins or when a recession ends because plenty of folks here have known their own private recessions for 10, 20, 30 years,” he said.
Here are some of the main points from President Barack Obama’s Tuesday speech at V&M Star in Youngstown.
Without government assistance, General Motors would have gone out of business. That means the Lordstown GM complex “would not be there,” he said.
The federal stimulus package provided about $19 million to V&M’s $650 million expansion project. The 1-million-square-foot expansion is the “largest industrial plant built in the Valley since GM built its plant over in Lordstown in the 1960s,” Obama said.
The nation gained 290,000 jobs last month, the fourth month in a row with positive job growth nationwide. Almost all of the jobs are in the private sector, Obama said.
Without naming the Republican Party, Obama said, “If the ‘just-say-no’ crowd had won out, if we had done things the way they wanted to go, we’d be in a deeper world of hurt than we are right now.”
Source: White House