The little village of Lordstown has long flexed a disproportionately large share of the industrial muscle of the Mahoning Valley.
Ever since General Motors decided to locate a sprawling car-assembly plant there in the 1960s, the village’s vast swath of open land, its location near major interstate highways and its closeness to a strong and skilled workforce have made it a magnet for developers.
In recent years, for example, the village has welcomed development to the tune of $28 million for a regional distribution center for Anderson-Dubose, $100 million for an aluminium billet plant from Matalco Inc. and $900 million for a power plant from Clean Energy Future – just to name a few.
We hope that same momentum continues with the addition of a proposed $160 million distribution center by TJX Industries Inc. to service 300 of its HomeGoods stores in the nation.
The saga that began four months ago when TJX announced the project hit a critical point Friday when the Trumbull County Board of Elections validated the petitions of opponents and authorized a special election Aug. 21. The petitioners, who have every right to exercise their constitutional rights to force a vote against the necessary zone changes, were meticulous in ensuring they had far more than the 124 valid signatures needed on each of their petitions.
The election is indeed critical because a communitywide vote on whether to welcome or shoo away TJX will wield impact far beyond the borders of the community of about 3,300 people.
In the short term, it will decide at last whether a new and robust company with the promise of 1,000 jobs-plus will help soften the blow of the loss of some 2,700 jobs at the GM Lordstown plant over the past two years.
In the long term, referendum results will send a signal to other would-be developers throughout the nation and the world that Lordstown in particular and the Valley in general have earned a reputation for either pulling out the red carpet or slamming the door in job creators’ faces.
We therefore encourage all supporters of the project in the public and private sectors to come through again with a full-throttle campaign for the project and against the August referendum question to repeal the needed zoning changes. Such community support, many will recall, played a pivotal role in encouraging TJX officials to recommit to Lordstown after community opposition led to its pulling out last spring.
There’s clearly no time to waste.
Early voting on the referendum began Tuesday at the Trumbull County Board of Elections in Warren, and absentee ballots are now available for those unable to make it to any of Lordstown’s polling places on Aug. 21.
COMPANY REMAINS RESILIENT
As the opponents of the zone change from residential to industrial use on seven parcels of land approved by Village Council last month ratchet up their campaign to pass the referendum, we’re pleased that company officials continue their resilience and commitment to the project in Lordstown.
Just last week, for example, Mark Walker, Home Goods vice president of real estate, appeared before village council to reaffirm the Fortune 500 company’s long-standing commitment for a buffer zone between the 1.2-million-square- foot distribution center and nearby residential neighborhoods.
Walker said the company is in talks with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to conserving natural resources. The planned 100-acre wooded barrier would be off limits to any development or any oil and gas drilling, he added.
Those pledges reflect the ongoing good-neighbor policy that TJX has projected.
TJX took opponents’ initial concerns to heart, exploring other potential sites in Lordstown. None, however, proved feasible for the company’s needs.
TJX also took heed of safety concerns by including the addition of traffic lights on Bailey Road and realignment of Hallock-Young Road into its proposal.
And TJX is offering to make a $500,000 donation to the Lordstown schools in return for a 75-percent tax abatement and a green light for groundbreaking this fall.
In the coming days and weeks, we look for the Valley’s political leaders at all levels to join forces with grass-roots organizations and business leaders, including the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber that played a vital role in luring TJX here.
Together, they should pull out all the stops to make village voters aware of the referendum and of the bounty of good reasons why they should oppose it.
In many respects, special election day will not only be a referendum on the future of TJX in the village. It will also rise as a referendum on the future viability of large-scale economic development throughout the Valley.