YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Marty Loney has little doubt that members of Mahoning Valley skilled trades will be working to build Intel Corp.’s new plant near Columbus.
Earlier this year, Intel announced it will invest more than $20 billion in its first new U.S. site in more than 40 years. Construction of the semiconductor plant in Licking County will create approximately 7,000 temporary jobs.
“You’ll have people that are traveling there from all over the country, quite honestly,” says Loney, business manager of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 396 and president of the Western Reserve Building and Construction Trades Council.
The project will be “the first advanced semiconductor campus in the Midwest – a new epicenter of leading-edge technology in the ‘Silicon Heartland,’ ” says Emily Smith, Intel public affairs director for Ohio.
The campus will employ more than 3,000 once it opens, she says.
Large projects such as the Intel plant and the Shell ethane cracker nearing completion in Monaca, Pa., draw workers from hours away, depending on the pay rate, availability of local work and personal situations.
Gone are the days that a 20- or 30-minute ride to work was considered long, says Tony DiTommaso, senior representative of the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters and Western Reserve Building Trades’ secretary/treasurer.
At its peak, the Shell project had about 8,000 tradespeople on site, though there was a layoff of about 1,000 people a month ago, according to Loney says.
Most of the local building trades had people on the project, including ironworkers, boilermakers, carpenters, millwrights, electricians and operating engineers, he says.
Plumbers Local 396 had about 90 members there at peak. “I may have six people there still,” Loney says.
Labor demands for large projects such as the Shell cracker and Ultium Cells in Lordstown affect the availability of skilled trades for other jobs, area labor leaders note.
Scott Satterlee, business manager at Local 64 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Youngstown, acknowledges he recently had open calls – requests for workers – that he wasn’t able to fill until recently because of those two projects.
Subsequent layoffs at the Ultium job site allowed him to fill his open calls. The local has about 20 members now at the battery plant and Satterlee expects them to be at the site for the next several months.
Other local projects for Local 64 members include expansion projects for Salem Regional Medical Center in Columbiana and Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley in Boardman, as well as recently completed work at Penguin City Brewing Co.’s new brewery and event enter in Youngstown.
Brian Wydick, business representative for Operating Engineers Local 66, District 2, reports his local had about 850 members working on the Shell cracker, beginning with site preparation work.
That had a “huge impact’ on the ability to have workers available for local jobs, Wydick says.
The local – which covers Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties in Ohio and 33 counties in Pennsylvania – also had people working on various power plants in the region, including in Lordstown, as well as the Ultium Cells plant.
The local has 63 operators still working there now – about half of what were there at peak – and Wydick expects them to remain there for up to a year.
“We’ve maintained but it’s definitely a struggle, keeping everybody going,” he says.
Ironworkers Local 207 had around 10 members at the Monaca job site, says Tony Deley, business manager.
“There were definitely opportunities, but work was good in our area, so there was no need for them to travel,” Deley says.
At peak, the ironworkers local had 120 ironworkers at Ultium Cells and what he describes as “a handful” of people at Foxconn, Deley says.
Other area projects he has members on include Vallourec in Youngstown, where standard maintenance is
underway, and the walking beam furnace at the NLMK Group mill in Farrell, Pa.
Whether the Intel project will draw many area electricians is hard to say because of how far away the job is, according to Satterlee.
“It’s going to depend on what the rate is, if they’re paying per diem, stuff like that,” he says.
“I’m sure that we will have some runoff from that project,” depending on what subcontractors are on the job, adds Wydick from the operating engineers.
There are always members who want to be on a large project like Intel or see an opportunity to make more money, DiTommaso says.
“There’ll be a percentage of our members that do travel and that don’t mind it,” he says.
They might be looking at paying off bills before they retire or to “make a name for themselves” and move on to larger projects, DiTommaso says. That will definitely have an effect on the pool of tradespeople available for projects locally, although he is unsure to what degree.
“We are focusing our energy on organizing and membership retention. We plan to aggressively organize,” he says.
If steady work continues locally, Deley doesn’t expect Intel to draw much from the local trades pool. For some of his members, the cracker plant was less than an hour’s trip one way, whereas Intel would be more than two hours “so that would be a stay-over job,” he says.
Again, that’s if the work expected to hit the Valley comes through. Anticipated projects include the FedEx Ground distribution center in Mercer County, Pa., the new Meijer Niles store and the Salem Regional expansion.
“We’re hoping that the water situation gets figured out” for the second power plant in Lordstown, Deley says. He also points to Mercy Health’s recently announced plans for a new St. Joseph Warren Hospital campus in Champion.
Some projects are more attractive than others, DiTommaso says. He has heard that Intel will require 3,000 carpenters. In some cases, tradespeople might know someone in the Columbus area or decide that the drive isn’t that bad. Some members don’t mind the out-of-town work, and are willing to travel because of the money they expect to make.
“A lot of members have gotten used to that, especially when things were slow here,” he says. “If you needed to work, you went up to Cleveland, you went out to Akron. So, they’re used to making those kind of stretches.”
Wydick doesn’t foresee a shortage of workers locally resulting from the Intel project, because work at
Shell is winding down and a new crop of journeymen will soon come online.
For some, the work simply isn’t attractive enough to disrupt their lives, particularly if they have families and young children. In some cases, they take the out-of-town work for a while and then return home.
“They want to be home every night. They want to go to their kids’ baseball games and they want to go to the chorus concerts,” Loney says. “Traveling and being gone for months and maybe even years at a time is not conducive to staying married and watching your kids grow up.”
Pictured at top: Artist rendering of the proposed $20 billion Intel project. (Image: JobsOhio)