Lessons come to light as GE ends operations in the Valley
The last vestige of General Elec- tric’s once strong and shining imprint on the Mahoning Valley vanished last month with the closing of the company’s landmark lamp plant in Warren. The closing brings understandable pain and heartache to many of its displaced workers, ends a vibrant chapter in the rich industrial heritage of the Valley and offers some hard lessons for industry and workers alike on the importance of adjusting to a new era of manufacturing in the United States.
The plant on North Park Avenue in Warren — once the home of a sprawling Packard Electric division of General Motors — closed last month after the nearly 200 workers there voted last year to reject a concessionary contract proposal that would have lowered wages but kept the plant operating. The proposal would have maintained jobs by moving all but one line of the plant’s production of outdated incandescent light bulbs and by installing several lines of energy efficient-halogen bulbs. Though the margin of rejection was razor-thin — less than 10 votes — the outcome illustrated that actions do have consequences. Despite efforts to keep the plant open, workers failed to change GE’s mind.
The closing reinforced the fact that as times change, so, too, must industry. Old ways of production and product lines that no longer serve the public good must give way. In many cases, higher wages that threaten a corporation’s viability also must be adjusted. That is a fact of life that thousands of lower-wage newer employees at the General Motors Lordstown plant and other Valley industries have come to accept as a given. Clinging to old ways of making things, after all, played a large role in the catastrophic demise of the Mahoning Valley’s once colossal steel industry.
IMPACT OF CLOSING
Even though the demise of General Electric manufacturing that once employed about 4,000 people in plants scattered across the Valley pales in comparison to the loss of tens of thousands of steel jobs here in the 1970s and 1980s, the end of a century of GE production in the Valley will have similar detrimental ripple effects — loss of tax revenue for Warren’s strained city coffers, added industrial blight to the city’s landscape and financial and psychological strains on the displaced workers, particularly those who supported the concessions and now lack viable immediate alternatives.
Toward minimizing the hit, Warren leaders should double-up on efforts to assist the unemployed and rev up economic development and business attraction to the city. They should work directly with GE toward finding a suitable tenant willing to invest in renovations of the aging structure. To the Valley’s credit, numerous avenues of assistance also are available through the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, the Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp., business incubators in Warren and Youngstown and statewide economic development programs. If such efforts fail, the aging structure should be razed to lessen blight and threats to public health.
Fortunately for Warren officials, the economic climate throughout the Valley is slowly warming. Witness the growth of the oil and natural-gas drilling industry, high-tech businesses and the state-of-the-art America Makes, a national research and development center for additive manufacturing and 3-D printing. With such a strong foundation now laid in the Mahoning Valley, we’re confident the jobs lost at GE can be resurrected many times over by progressive companies and talented workers with their mindset and production philosophies firmly planted in the 21st century.