CSU: Region will take $3B hit from GM's idling of Lordstown


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Staff report

LORDSTOWN

GM LORDSTOWN THE LAST DAY

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The final Cruze rolled off the assembly line at GM Lordstown today. Workers gathered for a rally outside the plant.

Hopes for some future product at General Motors Lordstown – be it a GM electric vehicle or something else by anyone else – were voiced at the same time an economic study revealed a $3 billion hit coming to the Mahoning Valley’s economy.

The situation is, as one Lordstown cafe server puts it, “a drop kick to the face” after Americans bailed out GM and were told to “Buy American.”

Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday was “a very sad day in the Mahoning Valley and a sad day in Ohio. It’s very tough for the families and the workers.”

The state is in touch with GM a couple of times a week, he said.

“We’ve been urging them to put a new line in there, and they’ve not given us any indication they are,” DeWine said. “I get the impression they’re talking to a company or companies. We’d like to be helpful at the earliest stage we could. If there’s a company thinking of putting a line in there, we want to let them know we’ll be helpful to them through JobsOhio and incentives.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, isn’t giving up hope of getting an electric vehicle at the facility. “We’re talking about getting [federal] money to convert old factories into state-of-the-art [facilities] to do something like electric vehicles or fuel-efficient vehicles,” he said.

Electric vehicles are the cars of the future, Ryan said, and the Lordstown facility is the ideal location for one.

But for now, an economic study by Cleveland State University estimates the idling of the Lordstown facility will have a more than $3 billion impact on the output of regional industry.

It also estimates 1,256 more private-sector jobs will be lost, in addition to the 1,607 jobs lost as a direct result of the plant’s idling.

Taken with the loss of the plant’s third and second shifts, the cumulative economic impact to the region is estimated at $8.2 billion and a “total loss of 7,711 jobs or 4.4 percent of employment in the Ohio part of the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman” metropolitan statistical area, the report concludes. (The area also includes Mercer County, Pa.)

Duane Lloyd is now a statistic after leaving the plant after his final shift before 2:30 p.m.

“This is not my first rodeo. This is my second plant,” he said. Lloyd started his career with GM in Pittsburgh, worked for GM for 25 years and will be able to retire during the layover period, he said.

“I didn’t expect to retire in this state. I wasn’t ready,” Lloyd said.

WHAT DO WE DO?

A separate CSU analysis, also released Wednesday, points to two growing regional industries that could still drive the Valley economy. This study shows oil and gas productivity in the region more than tripled from 2013 to 2017 and accounted for a total $2 billion output in 2017.

The area’s three legacy steel and aluminum manufacturing industries in the Youngstown metropolitan area “have recovered from the recession and are doing well,” accounting for a total output of about $790 million in 2017, the study states.

Genna Petrolla, economic development program manager for Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, which commissioned the study, said it illustrates the need for a more diverse Valley economy.

GM “is such a heavy, heavy player and has been for, what, 53 years? ... This shows what happens when we aren’t diversifying,” she said. “We can’t put everything on one company. We also can’t have our economic development be attracting one company or big companies. That’s always going to be a good thing, but the future of the Mahoning Valley’s economy is not going to be relying on big companies.”

Instead, investment should be focused on entrepreneurship, small-business development and small manufacturers, Petrolla said.

“Look what one company [has done] and the effect in the last two years, what effect it’s going to have on our local economy – we can’t afford another one of those,” she added.

James Dignan, Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber CEO, agreed, adding the oil and gas extraction and related productions such as plastics and petrochemicals have “the largest potential for our community.” But the boost from that industry is more upfront construction and other capital spending, rather than jobs.

Dignan said fears of another “Black Monday” have been greatly exaggerated: “That was 10,000 jobs lost in a day, 60,000 lost within a short breath – this is 4,000 jobs that have been slowly cut back over the years,” he said. “A lot of these cuts are already being realized and we’re already seeing them. Death by a thousand knife cuts doesn’t make it any better; it just makes it more painful, more drawn out.”

AFFECTS GENERATIONS

The future is worrisome for Lordstown school students, said teachers’ union President Alyssa Brookbank, Drive It Home committee member and intervention specialist. “The unknown is just scary,” she said. “It’s emotional.”

She said between 50 and 75 students will be affected by the plant’s the closure – more than 10 percent of Lordstown’s students.

“The kids are sad,” Brookbank said. “It’s very difficult coming into school everyday knowing the kids are sad everyday and knowing they have this on their shoulders. It’s impacting students.”

Brookbank added it’s up in the air as to how many students the district will lose.

“We will find out when the kids come back after Labor Day,” she said.

The school district has already made some accommodations to help families affected by the cutting of the second and third shifts.

It eliminated pay-to-play, classroom fees and created a food and clothing pantry open for anyone in the community in need.

For its upcoming “Aladdin” play, instead of charging an entrance fee, the school will host a food drive for the pantry.

“My 8-year-old is concerned about friends leaving,” said school board member Niki Reid. “They don’t want to leave and she doesn’t want them to leave.”

Board member Carla Click said the change is so much more than changing schools.

“Their whole life is here,” Click said. “Everything they know is here and all that is going to change.”

Senior student Lexi Phillips, daughter of Brian and Lisa Phillips, is feeling the pressure as her parents wait to make the decision to move to Texas.

“My mom works at the plant and has about 24 years in,” Lexi explained.

Right now the Phillips family is waiting – and hoping – for another car to be allocated to the plant. But Lexi won’t be going to Texas.

“I’ve already committed to a college – Akron University,” Lexi said. “If my parents do go, I’d be in Akron by myself.”

Mark Franko, a tool and die maker in the facility’s stamping department, has some tough decisions to make as well.

He has been employed at the facility for 28 years. Just shy of hitting his 30-year mark, he hopes to take a transfer to finish out his time with the company. “This is my home, and I want to stay and fight,” Franko said. He hasn’t yet been offered a transfer.

Franko spent the afternoon waving a large American flag in the throng of media and UAW workers attending the vigil outside the plant.

Jason Markovich, who worked at the plant for 20 years, can’t see himself leaving.

“I’m a single dad with a son who goes to Howland [schools]. I don’t want to leave my dad. My mother passed away a year and a half ago, and I know it sounds weird, but I don’t want to leave her, either,” Markovich said.

Gary Hilton, a former team leader who lives in North Jackson, has decided to wait out UAW’s fall negotiations.

He is six years from retirement and will take a transfer, if necessary.

“My thought process is, if it comes to it, I’ll leave my wife and kids here and finish off somewhere else,” Hilton said.

UAW AND GM TALKS

Ryan said the area wants to be part of GM’s future.

But “if General Motors is not going to use that facility, let’s find another electric-vehicle company to come in there and help us transform the Valley,” the congressman said.

Village Mayor Arno Hill said he’s hoping negotiations this year between GM and the United Auto Workers will result in GM allowing the Lordstown plant to build another vehicle.

“I’m hoping they build a product. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a car. I’d like to see a small crossover. I’d like to see them build something that will sell, and that’s our main goal.”

Of this week being the last for workers, he said: “It’s sad. We hate to see this happen, dislocating people. It’s tough on families and everything, but I know it was a business decision, and at least most people are getting offered another job. I think it’s probably 50/50. Some people want to stay and see what happens.”

The United Auto Workers Local 1112 union hall was crawling with visiting media covering the final day. Union President Dave Green said it has been an emotional day for his membership. 

“[UAW Region 2B director] Rich Rankin came down to visit us last week. They’re going to fight for us.” Green said. “We haven’t seen anyone from GM here in awhile. They came here when we first got the Cruze and bragged about how we saved the company, but we haven’t seen much since then.”

AN EMPTY PLANT

State Sen. Sean O’Brien said GM Lordstown has “been part of our community for 53 years, and to see the backbone of our economy leave, it’s a very sad day.”

O’Brien of Bazetta, D-32nd, said the concern is, the longer the plant is dormant, the more likely it is that workers there will leave for other job opportunities or just move away.

“Gov. DeWine has pledged state support, and we’ll hold him to that,” O’Brien said.

State Sen. Michael Rulli said he’s been in contact with company officials to offer assistance to land a new product.

But “if we’re not going to get a new product, we’ll look to other companies to fill that facility,” said Rulli of Salem, R-33rd.

“We want another General Motors product there,” Rulli said. “If not that, we need a strong Plan B and to reach out to other companies. To have a building of that stature become vacant is unacceptable.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown also said GM could retool the Lordstown plant and make electric cars there.

“It’s been retooled about a half-dozen times” since it opened in 1966, said Brown, a Cleveland Democrat.

Brown called on GM to reinvest in the Lordstown plant. “Our focus is on getting General Motors vehicles in there. But if not, we’ll look” at other companies,” he said.

Brown reintroduced his “American Cars, American Jobs Act” in the Senate. The proposal would give customers a $3,500 discount when they buy cars made in the United States and a $4,500 discount if that car is electric or a plug-in hybrid. It would also revoke a tax cut on overseas profits for auto manufacturers that ship jobs overseas.

THE FINAL CRUZE

The final Cruze rolled off the production line about 2:30 p.m.

By then, a gaggle of reporters and UAW supporters had gathered at community activist Werner Lange’s vigil, huddled together in the frigid temperatures awaiting the 3 p.m. exodus of workers from the plant.

When Green arrived at the vigil, he was immediately absorbed into the crowd, bouncing from supporter to supporter giving hugs and pep talks before he settled in and addressed the crowd.

Green praised Lange for his 43-day vigil and presented him with a collection taken up by workers inside the plant to thank him for supporting them.

Later, Jennifer Cancio of Youngstown sang Bruce Springsteen’s “Youngstown” – a song about the closure of the Jeanette Blast Furnace at Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. — with lyrics changed to represent the plant.

Initial reports from inside the plant suggested the final Cruze was going to be shipped to a dealership in Florida.

“I didn’t want to see it leave the Valley, so I tried to arrange a dealership swap to keep the car here at a local dealership,” Green said.

Before Green could finalize the deal, an unidentified local buyer arranged to purchase the vehicle.

“I don’t have the money for it, but I’d have bought the damn car myself to make sure it stayed in the Valley,” Green said.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman said this is the first time in about 96 years that GM is without an assembly plant in Ohio, the No. 2 auto-making state in the country.

GM says it will produce 20 new electric vehicles by 2023.

Portman, a Cincinnati-area Republican, said when the Cruze was a strong seller, GM “loved the plant,” and when the company was in trouble “the UAW and the community bent over backward to help GM. Everybody wants them to come back.”

Portman said there has been talk with other car companies “and there may be other options, but the best thing for the Valley is for General Motors to commit to that plant.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, said, “We all hoped that this week wouldn’t come at the General Motors facility in Lordstown, but here we are. However, we aren’t giving up. ... The bottom line is: the people of the Mahoning Valley and surrounding area want to find a solution that keeps Ohio’s premier, highly skilled automotive workforce working.”

The Drive It Home campaign is working with faith leaders, business owners, labor, school officials and others in the Valley and across the state urging them to participate in True Blue Friday. Churches are being asked to ring their bells at 3 p.m. Friday to show their support for the workers.

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