With OUR unemploymenT rate hovering among the highest in Ohio and the nation and with our base of jobs contracting by the day, the Mahoning Valley can ill afford to turn its nose up at any potential to land a stable large-scale development with a promise of 1,000 jobs or more.
That potential has landed here and now, and leaders from local and regional government, business and labor should waste no time in embracing it. It comes in the form a proposal by TJX Companies, Inc., parent of TJ Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods stores, to build a 1.2 million-square-foot distribution center, warehouse and office complex for some 300 HomeGoods stores.
The company’s plan projects at least 1,000 jobs, including about 150 professional posts, with an estimated weekly payroll of about $600,000, according to Joe Dubord, senior vice president of distribution services for HomeGoods.
Much of the credit for laying the foundation for last week’s announcement of the project lies with the talented work of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, working in tandem with Lordstown officials in selling the assets of the village and the Valley to TJX leaders quietly behind the scenes over the past two years.
That aggressive courtship paid off handsomely. After exploring five state and 12 communities as potential sites to build the center, TJX selected one directly across from the sprawling Lords- town General Motors Complex as its No. 1 pick for the $160 million center. We hope it keeps that rank toward a groundbreaking ceremony later this year.
One potential obstacle toward that goal surfaced Monday night at an informational meeting in the village at which TJX officials outlined in great detail the plans and specs for the distribution center.
Among the several hundred who crammed into the Lordstown Administration Building was a large contingent of vocal opponents of the chosen site.
Village residents who live in the shadows of the Ellsworth-Bailey Road site expressed strong fears over potential declining property values, truck-traffic woes and a disruption in the overall residential character of their neighborhood.
Partly because the project’s viability rides on rezoning about 170 of the 290 acres from residential use to industrial applications, their concerns must be given a full and proper airing.
From our vantage point, however, it appears as if TJX already has taken many of their concerns to heart.
As for traffic flow, the plan calls for adding traffic lights on Bailey Road and realigning Hallock Young Road away from the distribution center.
As for disruption of the quiet residential character of the neighborhood, TJX plans to purchase about 160 additional acres to stand as a tree-filled buffer zone to block the sights and sounds of the hubbub of the plant from nearby residents.
In a neighborhood that ought to be accustomed to heavy truck traffic in and out of the GM complex, such plans demonstrate a concrete commitment to responsible development by TJX.
The company also already has listened to residents’ calls that it explore other areas of Lordstown Village and township that are zoned for industrial use. It indeed had explored other sites but all lacked sufficient space for its needs, officials said.
Nonetheless, TJX should work toward sealing in a good-neighbor policy. We hope its leaders and affected homeowners will continue to meet to work out a viable plan to mitigate any lingering fears without threatening the massive job-producing project.
As of now, after all, the project is the Valley’s to lose. That’s why neighborhood, village, county, regional and state stakeholders must double down to ensure it is not lost to the No.2 candidate, a community in east-central Pennsylvania.
The Lordstown community knows only too well the adverse fallout of economic decline. Just last year, the community felt the sting of massive job loss when the GM plant shut down its third shift, dislocating about 1,000 workers at the plant and nearby support industries. Due to soft sales of its Cruze, the future of the auto giant’s presence here remains murky.
Valleywide, job contraction continues at a rapid clip. Between January 2008 and January 2018, the number of active employees in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties has tumbled from 253,800 to 218,800, according to data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Despite those disheartening losses, our region still has the right stuff that prime it for economic growth. Those assets include a centralized location to markets in the East and Midwest, easy access to strong highway and rail transit and, most notably, a large and viable workforce.
TJX has recognized the value of those assets. It is now up to leaders and residents of the Valley to recognize the value of the TJX proposal and then transform it from an exciting vision into a positive reality for the future of our region.