The United Autoworkers will try this summer to get General Motors to put in writing that the Lordstown plant will make another vehicle after Chevrolet Cruze production ends as scheduled in early March after a more than eight-year run.

Whether Lordstown or other plants that GM last November officially “unallocated” for future products will be “reallocated” to make new vehicles hinges on national contract talks that begin later this year between the union and automaker.

Meanwhile, UAW members at Lordstown, the surrounding community and Ohio politicians continue to lobby GM for another car or truck for the plant, which since 1966 has been a major part of the Mahoning Valley economy. At stake are not just more than 1,500 jobs there now but also businesses that rely on the Lordstown complex and the communities that depend on the taxes the plant generates.

If the contract talks don’t result in Lordstown eventually getting a new car to make, then General Motors and the community will be faced with finding a new use for the site. Options include repurposing the plant or tearing it down and starting anew, similar to experiences in two other Northeast Ohio communities.

“We don’t make any decisions about the [Lordstown] plant without going through negotiations,” GM spokeswoman Cheryl McCarron said. The national UAW contract that comes out of the talks will be the deciding factor. Until then, it will be unfair to speculate, said McCarron.

David Green, head of UAW 1112 at Lordstown, also acknowledges the importance of the upcoming talks.

“I’m trying to remain hopeful,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good shot at getting a new product.”

The union and the community are continuing with their “Drive It Home” campaign launched last year aimed at persuading GM to keep the factory open.

The last Cruze likely comes off the assembly line on March 8, Green said. Layoffs officially take place on March 11, while skeleton crews will remain after to help wind down the plant, he said.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and others have said if they can’t change GM’s mind, another manufacturer could come in and take over Lordstown. DeWine met with Mary Barra, GM's chief executive officer, shortly after he was sworn in as governor earlier this month.

“Our goal is to have General Motors,” Green said. “We’ve been part of their family for 53 years now.”

If a new contract means Lordstown will be shuttered, “we’ll deal with it,” Green said.

Under that circumstance, what happens with the large campus depends on what property General Motors wants.

Two other communities in the region that once depended on the auto industry — Twinsburg in Summit County and Walton Hills in Cuyahoga County — illustrate possibilities of what could transpire if GM exits for good.

 

Bouncing back

In Twinsburg, Larry Finch helped engineer the redevelopment of the former Chrysler stamping plant that closed in 2010 into what is now the 165-acre Cornerstone Business Park. The privately owned park is almost filled to capacity, with tenants Amazon, FedEx and others, including a new O’Reilly Auto Parts distribution center to open later this year, bringing with it about 350 jobs.

Finch, Twinsburg’s director of community planning and development, isn’t sure that what turned into a success in Twinsburg is also a viable concept for Lordstown.

“The Lordstown facility is still a viable asset,” Finch said. “It’s not as obsolete as the Chrysler plant.”

He noted that Lordstown is also much larger than the now-torn-down Twinsburg factory — more than 6 million square feet on 906 acres compared to about 2.2 million square feet on 165 acres for the former Chrysler factory.

An assembly plant is also more valuable than a stamping plant, with a different relationship with local suppliers and the end production, Finch said. Lordstown also has modern technology that the old Chrysler plant lacked, he said.

The stamping plant had been Twinsburg’s largest private employer with more than 1,000 workers on site just before it closed. At one point in its long history that dates back to 1957, more than 3,000 people worked there.

“We certainly are happy with the rate of redevelopment” at Cornerstone, Finch said. But he said the number of jobs at the business park doesn’t match the number of people who had worked at the stamping plant.

Twinsburg initially didn’t want the plant to be torn down. Instead, the city and others tried to find new uses for the property when it was put up for auction, Finch said.

“We originally were thinking, let’s get another operator in here,” he said.

But the design of the stamping plant, which included a 200,000-square-foot floor opening where cuttings were dropped, proved to be a major impediment to redevelopment, Finch said.

“We went through scenarios,” and the last option many in Twinsburg wanted was for the plant to be torn down, Finch said.

But as it turned out, starting completely fresh “absolutely it was the best option,” he said.

The private development group that bought the site has just 16 or so acres left to develop, Finch said.

 

Slow turning

Ford Motor Co. closed its stamping plant in the village of Walton Hills in 2014. Last year, Ford put the site — about 100 acres just north of Summit County off state Route 8 — on the market with the asking price of $9 million.

“It was a big financial impact. It was our biggest employer,” Walton Hills Mayor Don Kolograf said. “We relied on the payroll tax to support the village.”

At its height, the Ford plant employed thousands and generated an annual payroll tax of $1.26 million, said Katie Iaconis, the village fiscal officer. Since it closed, the village cut services and raised millage rates to make up in part the loss in payroll tax, she said.

The mayor said he is hopeful that the vacant property soon will be put to productive use under a new owner.

“Ford, I feel, has been working with the village very well,” Kolograf said. “They understand it has a large financial impact on us. They have kept us in the process. We’re grateful for that.”

The Ford property butts up against the Northfield Park harness racetrack and the Hard Rock Rocksino.

The last thing the village wants to see is the factory torn down and the land used for parking garages, which don’t generate jobs, to service the next-door entertainment complex, the mayor said.

“We want the most jobs and the highest paying jobs,” Kolograf said. They also don’t want the site to remain vacant for years, he said.

Village officials are open to the kind of redevelopment Twinsburg did in the creation of Cornerstone Business Park, Kolograf said. The whole building could remain or just part of it, the mayor said, depending on what a new owner needs.

“We want to be good business partners,” the mayor said. “If they put a hotel there, that would be great. Or two hotels.”

Kolograf said based on what his village is going through, he understands how people feel about what might happen with Lordstown.

 

Tough decisions

Not knowing what happens next at Lordstown makes things difficult for many people, said the UAW’s Green.

“It’s uncomfortable,” Green said. “A lot of folks are leaving. A lot of folks are staying.”

Hundreds of UAW members have either transferred to other GM plants or soon will transfer, he said. In some cases that means leaving families behind in part so that children can finish out their school year, he said.

“Ultimately, this is work stuff, which is important,” Green said.

But people shouldn’t ruin their health over worrying about work, he said.

“I try to keep people hopeful,” Green said. “Uncertainty is very difficult for people to deal with. … My best advice is to talk to your family, partner, who you have in life.”

 

Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ.