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Valley going all out to keep GM’s complex from closing

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Despite the dark cloud over General Motors’ assembly complex in Lordstown, the Mahoning Valley is absolutely right in fighting for the facility’s future.

To be sure, the one remaining shift producing a compact car that has fallen victim to changing consumer tastes is a stark reminder of the uncertainty that lies ahead.

In addition, the refusal by GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra or any other high-ranking company executives to publicly discuss plans for the Lordstown plant is of great concern. As we’ve said many times in this space, GM’s silence isn’t golden for the Valley.

That’s why the launch last Monday of the “Drive It Home” campaign is so important and so deserving of support and involvement from everyone in this region – and the state.

The stakes are extremely high, not only for the economic and psychological well-being of the Valley, but for Ohio’s reputation as a manufacturing powerhouse.

We, therefore, call on Republican Gov. John Kasich, who will be leaving office at the end of the year, and his successor, Republican Mike DeWine, to publicly join the campaign to save the 52-year-old Lordstown plant.

We are encouraged that Ohio Lt. Gov.-elect Jon Husted, currently the secretary of state, attended Monday’s launch and said he and DeWine hope to meet with GM officials shortly after they take office in January.

But, if Barra and her management team stay true to form, they will give the new governor and lieutenant governor the same runaround they’ve given Ohio’s two senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman. They have also shrugged off the entreaties of the area’s U.S. representatives, Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican Bill Johnson.

Thus, we urge DeWine and Husted to look to the White House for help. After all, Republican DeWine owes his general election victory this month to Republican President Donald J. Trump.

Trump has publicly stated that his appearance with DeWine at a rally in Cleveland on the day before the election was largely responsible for the GOP nominee winning the toss-up race with Democrat Richard Cordray.

Trump’s victory

For his part, Trump owes his victory in Ohio in 2016 to the many Democrats in the Mahoning Valley who voted for him. They were sold on his America First message and his promise to reopen the huge steel mills that once dotted the banks of the Mahoning River. The billionaire real-estate developer from New York City who had never run for office also pledged to reinvigorate the auto industry by forcing GM, Ford and Chrysler to shut down plants abroad and reopen them in America.

The president has chosen to ignore the emotional turmoil that is sweeping the Valley because of the uncertainty surrounding the Lordstown plant.

Sen. Brown urged Trump to call GM CEO Barra on behalf of this region. The president made no commitment.

It appears, therefore, that this Valley is the master of its own destiny.

The “Drive It Home” campaign involves a cross-section of the Valley’s population from government, labor, business and grassroots organizations.

Dave Green, president of UAW Local 1112 at the Lordstown plant, and James Dignan, president and CEO of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, are the organizers of the campaign. Their partnership is a reflection of the long-standing relationship between labor and business that was the difference maker 20 years ago when the GM Lordstown complex beat out four other plants in a high-stakes battle for the Chevrolet Cobalt.

The close ties between then plant Manager Herman Maas and Local 1112 President Al Alli were acknowledged by the decision-makers in Detroit, who were well aware of the plant’s history of labor-management turmoil during the early years.

They also knew from the success of the Chevrolet Cavalier that the Valley’s autoworkers were among the best in the country, if not the world.

GM invested heavily in the Lordstown plant and was gifted with a high-quality, top-selling Cobalt that surpassed all production expectations.

As a result, GM rewarded the plant with the Chevrolet Cruze. The company spent hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrading the production facilities.

But now, with sales of the Cruze dipping, the future of the plant is uncertain, at best.

The “Drive It Home” campaign is designed to show Barra and members of her inner circle that assigning a new product to Lordstown to replace the Cruze makes good business sense.

It would be foolhardy for GM to mothball the plant.