Candidates differ on views about free trade
By David Skolnick
Bill Johnson, the Republican candidate in the 6th Congressional District race, says free trade for the United States “only works” with countries that have “similar economic concepts, goals and capabilities,” such as Great Britain and Canada.
But Johnson’s company — Stoneridge Inc., in which he says he’s a member of its “executive leadership team” managing a “multimillion- dollar departmental bud-get” — closed a plant in Sarasota, Fla., while expanding its presence in Mexico, China and Estonia.
Johnson said he is the Warren-based company’s chief information officer and “not chief location scout so my goal is to ensure that manufacturing centers chosen by the company are equipped to serve our customers.”
But Democrats say Johnson is benefiting financially from his company’s decision to expand to the other countries.
“Corporate executive Bill Johnson personally profited from his company shipping jobs to Mexico, China and Estonia, while 300 American workers were fired,” said Ryan Rudominer, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Bill Johnson puts his profits from outsourcing ahead of American jobs, and that’s wrong for Ohio.”
Johnson earned $257,794 last year in salary from Stoneridge and owns between $50,001 and $100,000 of the company’s stock, according to his financial disclosure statement with the Federal Election Commission.
Stoneridge, a designer and manufacturer of electrical systems for vehicles, closed a plant in Sarasota in 2008, laying off 300 workers.
The Bradenton Herald newspaper quoted George E. Strickler, Stoneridge’s executive vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer, in November 2007 as saying: “With our China operation ramping up and our restructuring initiatives, we expect our sales from low-cost locations to grow as we relocate labor-intensive manufacturing over time.”
He mentioned expanding in Mexico, Estonia and China, according to the article.
Johnson said Stoneridge is a global company with more than 30 locations.
“Ohio-manufactured goods are exported to China as part of our operations,” he said. “Competing in the global economy has been good for Ohio workers. Despite a tough economy and consolidation, the company has actually created jobs right here in Ohio since my start” in 2006.
Johnson is challenging U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson of St. Clairsville, D-6th, in the November general election.
Wilson plans to start airing “a negative ad next week” about Johnson, said Kristina Paolina, Wilson’s campaign treasurer.
“As someone who has spent my whole life here, I have seen the devastation that outsourcing has caused in this area, and that’s why I have voted to close loopholes that reward companies for shipping jobs overseas,” Wilson said. “It’s also why I am trying to repeal NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement]. These issues are key to Ohio’s economic future, and it’s pretty obvious that Bill Johnson doesn’t understand that.”
Johnson says it is Wilson who is out of touch.
“In Congress, I’ll work hard to protect Ohio workers from unfair trade, and I’ll also work to reverse the skyrocketing unemployment experienced since Charlie Wilson took office,” he said.