Mahoning Valley must try, try again

In the $10 million Youngstown improvement plan announced last week, probably the coolest thing to take note of was the self-driving shuttle service destined to tool around the city-campus core.

I immediately ran to YouTube to see such concepts in action, and Las Vegas and Los Angeles popped in.

They look cool. It is exciting that one is headed here.

I’m sure Jim Cossler of the Youngstown Business Incubator is smiling. He has long been a curator of a cool Youngstown brand – years before others. He probably went and bought driverless shuttle pajamas.

If and how this shuttle is implemented is still to be determined. But to dare dream that way and put it in a plan for funds that others are competing for, and then to win the funds – that is refreshing.

The total project is more than the self-driving vehicle, and that component is probably the least utilitarian of all in the immediate sense. The project is anchored by a new Fifth Avenue that is more pedestrian and less Autobahn, a signature intersection by the Youngstown State University entrance, new streets and amenities to link the school, Mercy Health and a new Front Street.

The $10 million from the federal government is about half the cost. The rest is from the consortium of agencies and governments.

This news is good news any time. However, it’s great news this week coming off the news two weeks back of Lordstown’s looming “deallocation” – which we can call closure among us close friends.

Through that filter, the $10 million win also becomes Lordstown inspiration for an old adage:

Try, try again.

The $10 million win this week came after two previous losses in the past two years for these same projects.

Life can be harsh that way – requiring losses before you win one.

That seems to be the blue-collar way, huh? That lifestyle – in the arena that is Lordstown – can be a 12-part Netflix series.

Lordstown union leaders Dave Green and Tim O’Hara visited The Vindy newsroom last week. O’Hara replayed the day the news came out. He said even before the news broke, the weight of being out of a job was present.

He said as an autoworker, you always know your job is at stake. Always. He said it as casually as “please pass the pepper.”

The news now here with Lordstown is news local leaders did not want to discuss the past two years as the Cruze slipped in profile, lost sales and said goodbye to shifts three and two.

Try, try again is now everyone’s issue. It’s too much money to just let walk out without a fight.

We fight, again.

One decision facing the Lordstown folks – even sooner than expected – is positioning themselves for the best situation.

Are they GM car producers only?

Or are they, more broadly, any car producers?

Or are they so mechanically inclined that they can build anything?

I asked Green if the workforce is ready and positioned to build any car that comes its way, like via a European company partnership or an Asian company partnership. Ford is exploring such with Volkswagen. GM partnered years ago with Toyota in California. One of the top-selling cars in the U.S. is not made in North America.

Green was true blue – GM blue. GM is what he bleeds and leads and what he’s built. “This is family,” he said in a prideful manner.

But then as we talked through the ideas, examples like the above came out. We even mentioned the name Tesla because it took over the factory that was shared by GM and Toyota.

Unbeknownst to us Thursday when we discussed this, Tesla owner Elon Musk had already suggested to “60 Minutes” that he could be interested in a GM plant if one becomes available. That program airs tonight.

So such a scenario is possible – maybe more than any of us imagined Thursday.

I think we have to position ourselves to fight for whatever may come – GM cars or trucks, GM next-generation electronic cars, Teslas, etc.

This Lordstown debate aside, we also have to position our community for the next wave of jobs besides car-making.

YBI, America Makes, YSU, M7 Technologies and more are dreaming of the next wave of manufacturing.

It’s a must. Try, try again.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at He blogs, too, on Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.