Great jobs, good jobs or no jobs: How choosy can we be?


Second in a series

By M.L. SCHULTZE

Your Voice Ohio

LORDSTOWN

As you drive into southwestern Trumbull County, a few yard signs still mark the battle lines over TJX Companies Inc. – a battle that centers on the question of whether any job is a good job.

Trumbull has lots of highways. Interstates 80 and 76 cut from the Pennsylvania line west; state Route 11 ties north and south together. That’s attractive to companies such as FedX, UPS and Macy’s, which have distribution centers in the area.

TJX, the parent company of Marshall’s, TJ Maxx and HomeGoods, plans to join them with a 1.2 million-square-foot, $170 million facility on 300 acres of green space in Lordstown that had been zoned residential.

TJX is promising a thousand jobs, and supporters include Republican Mayor Arno Hill, Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan, the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber and about three-quarters of the voters in a special election in August.

“Workers in our area will be better off because of this achievement,” Ryan of Howland, D-13th, said in a statement after the zoning was changed. “I will continue 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.”

Beyond the rezoning, TJX is getting a state Job Creation Tax Credit expected to be worth $3.5 million. It’s also getting a 75 percent, 10-year property tax abatement, which is expected to save the company more than $1 million dollars a year in property taxes.

Schools, which depend most on property taxes in Ohio, have no say on partial abatements and took no position on the project. TJX is giving the Lordstown Local School District a one-time $500,000 donation for athletic facilities and security. The district will continue to collect one-quarter of the property taxes on the improved property – an amount that won’t be solid until the facility is built and appraised – and a portion of the income tax through a tax-sharing program with the village.

In all, the district will receive about $400,000 a year in tax dollars over the next 10 years. The revenue to the school without the abatement would have been about $681,000 a year, said district Treasurer Mark Ferrara.

TJX also plans to donate 100 acres so the village can maintain a buffer between nearby residences and the warehouse.

Given Trumbull County’s continuing struggle over jobs, a protracted fight to stop the project may seem incongruous. But opponents called it the right project in the wrong place, arguing that nearby industrially zoned properties are a better option.

They also raised a concern that echoed beyond the immediate neighborhood: How much will $12-an-hour jobs cost the community?

The average warehouse worker’s annual salary in the U.S. is $31,451, according to the Department of Labor, with the range typically falling between $27,021 and $36,100. Indeed.com says warehouse workers average $11.92 an hour in Ohio, or about $25,000.

Local news reporters have had little success obtaining information from TJX, so a list of questions was submitted seeking details. Among them: amount of tax relief expected, wages, how many jobs would be part time, the reason TJX selected residential property rather than available industrial land and whether there is interest in providing transportation to high-unemployment areas in Warren.

“We take a quiet approach at TJX, and we wouldn’t get into specifics on most of your questions,” spokeswoman Erika Tower said in an email response.

“That said, we believe this project will bring many economic benefits to Lordstown and the Mahoning Valley, including at least 1,000 jobs, opportunities for local college students and financial support for the Lordstown Local School District...”

Nick Coggins, the county’s economic development coordinator and a supporter of the TJX project, said the company hasn’t even told him how much the jobs will pay beyond saying they’ll be “competitive.”

He sees the TJX warehouse as a part of a diversifying Trumbull County getting its feet. And he insisted the county is paying attention to the quality, not just quantity, of jobs.

“If you’re going to have 200,000 people living here, you need to make sure there are jobs. So that’s always a measure. But you want to make sure those are good jobs,” he said.

“I can bring in three McDonalds and a Burger King. ... But 500 people working part time at $8 an hour is not the same as 100 people working full time at $16, $17, $18 an hour.”

Shari Harrell heads the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley. She underscored she wasn’t on the inside of the TJX deal, that there may be valid reasons it had to be planted in residential space, and said, “I don’t ever want to turn my back on the opportunity to bring jobs to the community.”

But she says she’s been “dismayed from Day One” by parts of the project that seem to run counter to recommendations in the “Two Tomorrows” report published earlier this year by the Fund for Our Economic Future.

The report emphasizes a regional approach to creating good-paying jobs, including encouraging entrepreneurs, going bigger in bioscience and “owning” the modern-manufacturing sector. It also emphasizes racial and economic inclusion. (The Fund for Our Economic Future has pledged to defray some of the costs of the Your Voice Ohio media meetings in Northeast Ohio.)

“We have gone down the path of sprawl and incentivizing companies at whatever cost to build wherever,” she said. “We lose green space. We leave empty buildings everywhere. We create more infrastructure when we can’t support what we already have.

“We really have to think about the concepts of jobs hubs and mobility and connecting everybody.”

In a recent Your Voice Ohio community meeting organized by local news media, residents echoed her concerns.

To make Warren a better place, they said it needs more green space, less sprawl, better public transportation, jobs with livable wages and a plan to deal with empty buildings.

Terry Armstrong has considered the issues as a Trumbull County native whose grandfathers worked at Copperweld and Republic Steel, as a father whose children are starting to head off to college and as superintendent of Lordstown schools, which are giving up a lot of property taxes. He acknowledged the wages at TJX won’t compare with those paid in the halcyon days of manufacturing in the 1970s and 1980s.

But he hopes the law of supply and demand may be starting to turn back in workers’ favor.

“If you do an equivalent dollar-for-dollar analysis, it’s definitely not what they were making. But it’s jobs here in the [Mahoning] Valley,” Armstrong said.

“We hope a lot of employers keep coming in ... because the more jobs there are [and] the less people you have able to work, it’s going to raise their wages. So we’re happy to have those jobs come in regardless of whether they’re $12 or not. We hope they become higher-paying jobs because that just helps everybody.”

Regardless of the outcome, Tim Francisco, head of Youngstown State University’s Center for Working Class Studies, said the debate over TJX was an important one for the community to have.

“For a very long time [there’s been] an unfair characterization of working-class communities that somehow you should be grateful for any jobs you can get and any industry you can get, and you can’t afford to be choosy and you can’t afford to push back.”

M.L. Schultze is a former editor, reporter and news director for WKSU public radio and the Canton Repository. She currently is a freelance writer and can be emailed at MLSchultzesenften@gmail‚ã.com

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