By Karl Henkel
Earl Ross has seen it all during his 13 years as owner of an eatery — and now pub — just a few blocks from General Motors’ Lordstown complex.
He’s seen good — anytime in the past when the plant has worked three shifts.
He’s seen the bad — when GM worked only two shifts, like in 2009 as Chevrolet Cruze production got under way.
He’s seen the ugly — during the pre-Cruze days, when the plant worked just a single shift.
Now, he’s seen the great — and is gleaning the fields.
Ross, owner of Ross’ Eatery and Pub — formerly called Ross’ Foods before late last year, when he
revamped previously empty space into a pub — is enjoying success that parallels that of the plant.
There’s enough work to last deep into most nights and money flowing into the community through workers who are happy to spend.
But it wasn’t always that way.
In 2009, when Lordstown was down to one shift, Ross was, for all intents and purposes, down to one shift.
He employed just four workers.
“I was trying to do everything myself,” he said. “I just treaded water and went into survival mode for what seemed like an eternity.”
Now, as the establishment approaches its 14th anniversary next month, Ross employs 20.
“The second they went back to three shifts, things really picked up,” he said.
Ross’ experience is just one of many economic impacts driven by the Mahoning Valley’s top employer.
Jim Graham, president of United Auto Workers Local 1112, says the plant feels many connections to the select businesses that surround it, because they’ve all been in the same economic boat.
“They know what the tough times are like, and now that the plant is working well, they are reaping the benefits,” Graham said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Graham also said that each job in the plant leads to seven to 10 indirect or direct jobs in supporting industries.
Workers at Comprehensive Logistics, a major GM Lordstown supplier in Austintown, often have worked seven days a week to keep up with the workload. Others, such as Jamestown Industries and Magna Seating, have been equally busy.
“The spin-offs are incredible,” said Tom Mock, spokesman at GM Lordstown, who also attributed the economic impact of the plant to its 15,000 area retirees.
“They’ve got pensions and spend money,” he said. “They are a sheer economic force that is often overlooked.”
Then there are the 4,500 workers who are employed at the Lordstown complex, significantly fewer than the heyday of the 1970s but about 3,000 more than two years ago.
But the employment numbers at the auto plant aren’t the only driving force helping the economy.
GM is profitable for the first time since 2004, and its workers are seeing the benefits.
In March, each of the approximately 4,000 then-Lordstown workers received $4,000 profit-sharing checks. With the new GM-UAW contract inked last month, workers are receiving $5,000 bonus checks.
For Tier 1 workers, who make about $58,000 annually, those two checks represent a 15 percent salary increase.
For the hundreds of Tier 2 workers at Lordstown, it’s a 31 percent bump.
The combined bonus checks have or will pump about $38 million into the local economy.
It’s already positively affected Lordstown village’s bottom line.
Deputy Clerk Bill Blank said that 2011 income-tax revenues are expected to top $5.1 million, $1 million higher than in 2010 and nearly $2 million more than in 2009.
“We get to see the effects locally through income taxes,” said Lordstown Mayor Michael Chaffee. “But if you multiply that out, it’s a lot of money pumped into the economy.”
That has a broad effect on the Mahoning Valley.
“It’s extremely positive,” said Cleveland-based economist George Zeller. “Not only does it help those workers, but they’re going to spend that money in the Valley.”
Sean Urban, an assembly worker at the Lordstown plant for the past four years, has spent his money — including bonuses — freely.
He frequents Ross’ eatery four to five days a week.
“Sacrifices have been made since the bankruptcy, and it’s all paying off now,” he said. “When you’re doing well, you spend money.”
He hasn’t spent it all that freely, however.
Urban said most of his bonuses have gone to pay bills, and he’s banked some for future use.
More bonuses could come later, especially after last week’s news that Lordstown was awarded the diesel Cruze beginning in 2013. It means the demand for work in the plant will continue.
Dave Green, president of UAW Local 1714, said the workers put in the day-in, day-out effort, and the success is shared throughout the Valley.
“It’s all for nothing if we didn’t have the support in the community,” he said. “I’m glad we’re able to have such an impact in the Valley and glad the community has rallied around us.”