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Valley should embrace GM battery factory

The automotive world is on the cusp of sweeping changes in technology not seen in more than a century. Gas and diesel engines are going by the wayside, and decisions are being made right now on where the factories of the future will be located.

Currently we have several companies considering significant electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing investments right here in the Mahoning Valley. General Motors told United Auto Workers negotiators that the company wants to open its first battery-cell manufacturing facility here. This could plant the seed and bring other leaders in the future of automotive manufacturing to our region and help create a new EV engineering hub in the Youngstown-Warren area.

General Motors, Lordstown Motors Company and Hyperion Motors are offering the Valley a chance to be at the forefront of this revolution: GM with its proposal to bring a battery-cell factory, and Lordstown Motors with a plan to build electric pickups, both with UAW labor at the GM Lordstown Complex. Hyperion Motors is developing cars fueled by hydrogen power cells and looking to bring its technology related to energy creation, storage and propulsion to the Valley, as well. Ohio should embrace these plans, because the alternative is to cede the market to other states, or even worse, to countries like China.

What do these new opportunities really represent? A chance for our community to position itself as a hub of technology and reshape the future trajectory of the entire Valley. Positioning our region for tomorrow undoubtedly will drive thousands of direct jobs, thousands more construction jobs and the continued roll-on effect the automotive industry normally has on communities. We can be the epicenter of this next-generation technology.

Think of the demand it would create. Last week alone, Amazon announced it would buy 100,000 electric delivery trucks from a competitor of Lordstown Motors and Workhorse. There’s no doubt these jobs will all pay more than the median family income in our region… and that’s for an individual wage earner. It’s clear the opportunity to move our community forward is laying right at our feet.

Frankly, there is little alternative. As much as we may cross our fingers or pray for the allocation of a new GM vehicle to the Lordstown Assembly Complex, we are being told it won’t happen. GM still has excess capacity across its system. The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we can turn our attention to becoming part of the future by embracing investments for new technology and new jobs right here.

For more than a century, the Valley has been engaged in auto manufacturing. Let’s validate that we are ready and willing to be part of the next generation of auto manufacturing, the future of every automaker in the world. Embracing change and getting our foot in the door today is the smartest move the Valley can make, now and for generations to come.

James Dignan is president and CEO of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber.

columns@tribtoday.com