Two prominently placed stories on the front page of Friday’s Vindicator, each with its epicenter in the village of Lordstown, painted a stark study in contrasts for the future of the Mahoning Valley’s economic livelihood.
The first, under the headline “One day at a time,” presented a largely somber narrative of the final day Friday of the second shift of production at the sprawling General Motors assembly plant in the community. Though a Lordstown United Auto Workers local president expressed hope for an upturn in production and a return of some of the 2,700 workers laid off since early last year, he acknowledged these are “scary times” for the plant and its remaining work force.
In contrast, the story just below it headlined “Major Milestone” gushed in optimism. It heralded the long-awaited Village Council approval of zone changes totaling 290 acres necessary for TJX Companies Inc. to commit to building a $160 million regional distribution center along Ellsworth Bailey and Hallock Young roads. Once in full operation, the facility would employ more than 1,000 workers.
The many people and institutions that guided the project through a twisted trail of ups and downs over the past three months rightly cheered the milestone reached in the council’s 3-2 decision.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, a prime advocate for the TJX facility, said, “We have all worked long and hard to make this project a reality,” adding that he pledged “to do whatever it takes to ensure that this facility, with its thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in payroll and revenue, comes to our region.”
Similarly, the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, which worked with TJX behind the scenes years before the formal announcement, greeted the vote with enthusiastic optimism.
“We’re ecstatic with tonight’s outcome, and the fact that Village Council realizes the importance of this investment not only for their community but also the entire Mahoning Valley,” said Sarah Boyarko, senior vice president of economic development for the chamber.
This newspaper, too, has been a staunch advocate for the project since its unveiling in early March and welcome the rezoning approval. At the same time, however, we must recognize that any celebration today is patently premature.
That’s because the project remains sufficiently short of the finish line. Opponents of the project vow they will mount a formal campaign for a special election to repeal the council’s decision and keep the acreage in question residential.
While we can understand their frustrations with some disruption to their bucolic neighborhoods, we continue to hope that they would recognize the greater good to the village and to the entire Mahoning Valley by paving the way for 1,000 new jobs. The significant downsizing at GM Lordstown makes that point all the more poignant.
Yet we will not begrudge them for seeking to exercise their rights under Ohio law to seek a vote of all eligible voters in the village on the controversial change in land use.
We would urge them, however, to act as quickly, as responsibly and as meticulously as possible if they choose to pursue that recourse via referendum.
Thanks to intervention by the Ohio General Assembly earlier this month, the referendum process has been expedited to allow for a special election Aug. 21, rather than waiting for Nov. 5. That could benefit the company in its efforts to begin work on the project by year’s end, and it does benefit backers of the referendum in getting the issue decided once and for all as quickly as possible.
The leaders of any referendum campaign have about four weeks to gather signatures totaling 10 percent or more of the total number of village residents who voted in the 2014 gubernatorial election in Ohio.
From the onset, organizers should seek out advice from county and state elections officials or legal advisers to ensure their petitions are accurately crafted. They must also safeguard against any nonvillage resident or nonvoter from signing them. The Trumbull County Board of Elections is scheduled to discuss the possible referendum at its meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Warren.
Any possible legal challenges stemming from invalid or incomplete petitions likely would hurt chances for a quick August election and could undermine the time-sensitive TJX project even more.
Unlike the ongoing downturn at GM in the village where hopes for a short-term reversal in the plant’s fortunes seem remote, a clear path to success looms within two months for landing the TJX distribution center. Increasingly, it’s looking as if that success will rest on a communitywide show of support for the zone changes at the polls in August.