Congressman Tim Ryan’s timing couldn’t have been better. Sunday night, Ryan of Howland, D-13th, candidate for president, appeared on national television and issued this challenge to Republican President Donald Trump: Show us the money. Talk is cheap.
On Wednesday, General Motors Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra visited Capitol Hill and during a meeting with Ryan and other members of Ohio’s congressional delegation delivered this economic death sentence to the Valley: GM is abandoning its 53-year-old assembly plant in Lordstown.
Of course, Barra wasn’t so honest about her company turning its back on a region that has contributed greatly to the giant automaker’s success.
Instead, she attempted to put lipstick on the pig (GM’s elimination of more than 4,000 high-paying jobs in the Valley) by spinning a yarn about a great company that’s interested in buying the Lordstown plant and building electric vehicles.
There will be more about Cincinnati-based Workhorse later. Suffice it to say that the New York Times has blown the lid off Barra’s attempt to coverup General Motors’ evil doing.
Let’s get back to Congressman Ryan’s public challenge to President Trump during his Sunday night stint on CNN’s town hall meeting that was broadcast live.
Ryan, one of 23 Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for president next year, is trying to become a top-tier candidate. The veteran congressman has put forth the argument that he alone understands the plight of America’s working men and women and the challenges they face when companies padlock factories and move jobs abroad.
Like most Valley residents, Ryan lived through the dark days of the collapse of the steel industry four decades ago and the loss of 50,000 jobs directly and indirectly related to the shuttered mills.
He also has been at the forefront of the effort to make the region a leader in developing new methods of manufacturing using 3-D printing.
Indeed, Ryan worked closely with the administration of former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, to establish the first additive manufacturing institute in the nation in downtown Youngstown.
That’s why his appearance on CNN resonated with residents of old industrial communities around the country.
His in-your-face comment to Trump about GM’s decision to pull up stakes in the Valley was prompted by the promises the president made to the region.
Shortly after taking office in 2017, Trump, the self-acclaimed billionaire real-estate developer from New York City, came to Youngstown and told 7,000 adoring supporters that the streets would soon be paved with gold.
He urged Valley residents not to sell their homes and not to move away because he was going to reopen the huge steel mills that once dotted the banks of the Mahoning River and boost the number of auto manufacturing jobs in America by forcing GM, Ford and Chrysler to close plants abroad.
Not only are the steel mills a pipe dream, but Trump’s pledge to grow the domestic auto industry rings hollow given GM’s closure of its Lordstown plant and the impending shutdown of three other facilities in the U.S.
But that didn’t stop Trump – he carried predominantly Democratic Trumbull County and almost defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in heavily Democratic Mahoning County in 2016 – from threatening to punish GM for pulling out of the Valley.
He demanded that Barra assign another product to Lordstown. She ignored him.
Then, when the CEO told the president that an agreement to sell the plant to Workhorse was pending union approval, he went public with the information, boasting about his effort on behalf of the Valley.
But as the New York Times noted, the Workhorse affiliated company that would build electric vehicles exists on paper only and has no money.
That’s why Ryan jumped down Trump’s throat during his CNN town hall appearance.
The congressman said the president “made a lot of promises in Youngstown.”
“I think it would be nice if he’s spending $20 to $30 billion helping farmers deal with a crisis, he could spend $1 billion helping General Motors open that factory back up in Youngstown, Ohio, and we can start providing electric cars, and we’ll kick China’s butt that way instead of what he’s trying to do now,” Ryan said.
The $1 billion is a drop in the bucket for the federal government, but that’s the amount Barra has reportedly cited as justification for GM abandoning Lordstown.
It’s noteworthy that the automaker discontinued production of the top-selling Chevrolet Cruze because consumers no longer want sedans. Trucks, SUVs and crossovers are all the rage.
But GM has also announced plans to launch more electric vehicle models. However, they would be built in existing factories that have excess capacity.
There also are reports that GM may produce the electric Trailblazer and Buick Encore in South Korea.
The $1 billion commitment from Trump for GM to upgrade the Lordstown plant would make it impossible for Barra to keep up ploy regarding Workhorse.
The New York Times recently published a story with the headline, “Savior of G.M. Lordstown plant, hailed by Trump, is a corporate cipher”.
Here’s what the story said, in part:
““The new venture, whose name remains secret, exists almost entirely on paper. Headed by the founder and former chief executive of Workhorse, Steve Burns, the business would have to raise at least $300 million to get Lordstown running again.
“In an interview, Mr. Burns would not say whether he had raised any money or secured commitments from investors. ‘It’s a gargantuan task,’ he said. ‘There is no running away from it.’”
The Times piece struck a nerve and prompted Tony Cervone, senior vice president for global communications at General Motors, to write a letter to the newspaper, criticizing the story’s focus on Workhorse’s financial challenges, rather the positive nature of the possible takeover of the Lordstown plant.
“But you are overly focused on Workhorse’s need for capital,” Cervone wrote. “A start-up that loses money and consumes capital for some period? That’s hardly man-bites-dog material, but it is an easy story to write since Workhorse is a public company and its results are open for public inspection, unlike most of its peers.”
Here’s a reality check for GM decision-makers: Replacing one of the world’s largest automakers with an iffy company is not a reason for the people of the Mahoning Valley to be optimistic.
If this deal comes to fruition, the Valley will be getting a pig in a poke – albeit a pig with lipstick, thanks to CEO Barra.