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Mahoning Valley must shape its future together

For more than 50 years, GM-Lordstown was a pillar of our local economy. Generations of northeast Ohioans devoted their lives to produce award-winning cars and vans, while building GM into the company it is today.

For these reasons and so many more, the plant closure shook our community to its core and left us devastated. The thousands of jobs lost at the local General Motors plant and spinoff companies will be hard to replace. For former GM workers, the pain and heartache this closure brought remains an open wound that will not heal anytime soon.

Yet amid this crisis we are, nonetheless, presented with an opportunity for economic renewal — if we choose to accept it.

An electric pickup truck startup company has decided to call Lordstown home. Earlier this month, Lordstown Motors Corporation bought the former GM-Lordstown plant to begin building the country’s first all-electric pickup truck built for businesses and committing to use UAW members in their facility. In anticipation of the plant being converted to an electric vehicle facility, I used my congressional seat on the House Appropriations Committee to help save a vehicle manufacturing loan program set to be zeroed out under the Trump Administration’s last budget. As a result, the program remains as a potential source of hundreds of millions of additional investments at the Lordstown facility.

Lordstown Motors’ arrival and investment in the Mahoning Valley comes at a time when the country and the rest of the world has seen a dramatic rise in demand for electric vehicle production. According to the International Energy Agency, there were 5.1 million electric vehicles on the road in 2018. The IEA estimates that by 2030, there will be between 130 million to 250 million electric vehicles.

This is an incredible opportunity for our community and our country if we are able to make the investments necessary to build these new electric vehicles, their batteries and their charging stations right here in the Mahoning Valley, rather than — as is happening now — allowing the market to continue to be dominated by China.

There’s no better place to lead this endeavor than the Mahoning Valley, the epicenter of innovation, manufacturing and technology. Right in the heart of downtown Youngstown is America Makes, the Youngstown Business Incubator and Youngstown State University. In Warren, we have BRITE Energy incubator, and in Akron, the Bounce Innovation Hub. Our community is recognized as a leader in manufacturing and 3D-printing, and entrepreneurs across the world come here to access our expertise and talent. It’s why it comes as no surprise that Lordstown Motors Corp. felt comfortable investing many millions of dollars in our community. It’s also why, as press reports have stated, battery maker LG Chem is in talks with GM about potentially locating a battery plant in the Mahoning Valley as well — an opportunity we support and intend for work hard for.

Ultimately, our greatest strength comes from our community’s workers. Their resilience, grit and determination are second to none. And it is these unwavering values that will shape the future of the Mahoning Valley and why Lordstown Motors named their electric pickup trucks ‘Endurance.’ Our community has endured countless challenges. We endured through depressions and recessions. We endured through Black Monday and the closures of our steel mills. And we will endure again through the departure of GM-Lordstown.

But to do so, we must — and will — rise together again as citizens, community leaders, elected officials, union members, businesses, educational institutes and everyone else. Our community depends on every single one of us working together. By doing so, we will shape the future of the electric vehicle market for the Mahoning Valley, Ohio and the country.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, represents Ohio’s 13th congressional district.

Tim O’Hara is president of United Auto Workers local 1112 in Lordstown.