By Kelcey Norris
After the devastating closure of the General Motors company in Lordstown, 1,000 workers found themselves jobless. The last vehicle produced was a white Chevrolet Cruze LS, and it rolled through the line like a ghost almost one year ago.
It seemed that there may have been no hope for these residents of Lordstown, who’d been displaced and out of work. Despite protests which gained national attention, the plant was idle.
However, hope was right around the corner. Lordstown Motors purchased the facility in November of last year.
Steve Burns, CEO of Lordstown Motors, said in a video released by the company in February that it aspires to be the first manufacturer of electric pickup trucks.
“Everything we do is with the worker in mind: both our worker who is making the truck and the worker who will use it,” Burns said.
Recently deemed “Voltage Valley,” the Mahoning Valley has welcomed Burns and the new technology.
“Lordstown, Ohio, has a long history of vehicle-making and the people here are enduring,” Burns said. “We’ve got the best of the best.”
The company already has requests for 1,000 electric trucks from a buyer in Florida.
“Underneath, it is like no other truck ever made,” he said. “You’re going to get more traction out of this vehicle than any conventional vehicle could offer.”
Darrell Wallace, professor of manufacturing engineering at Youngstown State University, said the future looks bright with the addition of Lordstown Motors for a few reasons.
“It’s a great opportunity to bring some jobs. … But it’s also very exciting because of the nature of those jobs,” Wallace said. “It’s the future of automotive. This is next generation automotive production happening right here in the valley.”
Because Lordstown Motors will produce electric trucks, Wallace said the plant will need a variety of employees.
“It’s going to start to bring opportunities that require skill sets from students across a wide range of backgrounds as well as traditional laborers all the way through advanced material research,” he said.
Wallace said students at YSU will benefit from being close to the site producing advanced technology they are learning about in class.
“Our program focuses on a wide range of manufacturing, including advanced manufacturing. All of our engineering programs have skill sets that are applicable to this new production,” Wallace said. “In our computer science programs, students are learning things like artificial intelligence, which would be relevant to this.”
The company’s expected impact in Lordstown is not enough to fully undo the damage of General Motors Lordstown’s closure. However, Albert Sumell, professor of economics at YSU, said it’s still a great first step.
“They’re not planning on employing nearly as many workers as what GM Lordstown employed,” Sumell said. “When GM Lordstown went down to hiring for one shift, there were 1,500 workers. Lordstown Motors is planning … to hire about 400 workers. When they’re up and running, it’ll only be about 25% of what GM Lordstown employed.”
Sumell said while GM Lordstown employees were directly affected, there were other businesses in the area that suffered financially from the closure.
“When GM Lordstown closed, so did the logistics companies that would ship cars and so did the direct suppliers to GM Lordstown, in terms of seat belts and seats,” he said. “Because there’s fewer people employed at GM Lordstown and their suppliers, there’s fewer people going out to eat and fewer people who stay in hotels or buy from retail stores.”
Sumell said he hopes Lordstown Motor Company will have a secondary economic impact. Other manufacturers potentially will see the profits of this electric vehicle manufacturer and choose to invest in the area.
“I wouldn’t expect [GM Lordstown] by itself to have a significant impact in terms of affecting overall employment and overall income level,” he said. “What can have a greater impact overall is if it leads to a clustering of more firms coming to the area that are associated with electric vehicle production.”