LORDSTOWN, Ohio — Arno Hill won’t dispute that now is a good time to be mayor of the village of Lordstown.
On the exterior wall of the sprawling Trumbull County plant that for half a century manufactured vehicles for General Motors, the banner that once touted the plant as the home of the Chevrolet Cruze has been replaced with one that urges the public to “Ride With Lordstown.”
Inside that building, electric-vehicle startup Lordstown Motors Corp., is preparing to retool the plant for production of its Endurance electric pickup trucks and employ more than 1,000 workers. Outside, GM has identified an adjacent site where the company and LG Chem plan to build a $2.3 billion battery cell plant to supply GM’s line of electric vehicles.
Not far from the Lordstown Motors Corp. plant, on Ellsworth-Bailey Road, work is well underway on the TJX Companies’ $170 million regional distribution center for its HomeGood stores. The company expects to be able to use at least a portion of the warehouse by the third quarter of this year, Hill reports.
These are just a few of the active, upcoming or proposed private projects in the pipeline in the village in Trumbull County. And this does not include an effort to secure $20 million in federal funds to develop transloading capabilities, smart vehicle infrastructure and other enhancements.
“We have a lot of activity because good stuff brings good stuff. Good businesses bring good businesses,” Hill says.
Chris Kerzich, director of government relations and corporate affairs for Lordstown Motors, praises Hill for his efforts to bring “a diverse set of businesses” to the village.
“If there’s synergies, I think it’s yet to be seen. But I think you’re seeing the village is really open to new companies coming in and they realize the impact that can have on the region,” Kerzich says.
During an event March 5 at the plant, Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns said the company was about a month away from announcing a battery supplier. The goal of the company is to produce 20,000 electric pickup trucks in 2021 and bring production up to 60,000 units the following year.
Burns said his preference is to hire as many former GM Lordstown employees as possible. The people who know the plant best “are folks that have been here before,” he said.
GM and LG Chem want to begin construction as soon as April on the battery cell plant, which is awaiting completion of environmental reviews and its building permit. GM has committed to bring 13 electric vehicles to the market between now and 2025, supplied by the battery packs that will be manufactured at the Lordstown plant.
“The Mahoning Valley can be the epicenter of a company and industry that is moving toward an all-electric future,” says GM spokesman Dan Flores, who was among GM representatives at a March 5 public forum.
Spinoff from the plant could include companies that provide the materials that go into making the batteries as well as businesses that supply products to keep the plant operating, such as paper towels, rags and pencils.
“You have a plant that’s going to be the size of 31 football fields. That plant’s going to need a lot of stuff just to run,” he says, although he acknowledges that those suppliers will make the decision about where to locate.
Likewise, as volume increases at the Lordstown Motors plant, its suppliers would want to be close, Burns says: “We can’t make that happen. We just think natural physics will cause that.”
In addition to the Lordstown Motors, GM-LG Chem and TJX projects, Old Dominion Freight Line plans to begin construction in the next two months on a new terminal in the village. Clean Energy Future, which developed the Lords-town Energy Center, is planning to begin construction in late summer of a second natural gas-fueled power plant in the village.
“There are a lot of exciting developments in the works throughout the Mahoning Valley going on right now,” says Sarah Boyarko, chief operating officer of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.
The Regional Chamber has seen an increase in property inquiries from industrial firms over the past several months, with four coming in early March, Boyarko says. The chamber is managing $4.2 million in pending industrial investment in the region that’s expected to be announced in the next one to two years.
The companies are looking throughout the Mahoning Valley and are well aware of the activity in Lords-town, she adds.
“Some of the potential locations submitted in response to these inquires have been in the village of Lordstown, but also from other communities throughout the two counties. Where they locate depends on finding the most ideal property to meet their specific requirements,” she says. “We don’t yet know if the more recent inquires are representative of companies interested in working with LMC or GM-LG, but we’re guessing that there is a good possibility that some of them are.”
Dan Crouse, a broker with Platz Realty Group, can attest to the level of interest. He received five inquiries through the chamber and two independently in the past six weeks. About 60% of the interest is in warehousing and distribution with a value-added component.
“It is very strong,” Crouse says. “We received yet another 70- to 100-acre request for property today.”
Prospects weren’t nearly as rosy for the village a year ago.
Although TJX was poised to begin construction of its distribution center – following months of hearings, legal battles, legislation and a special election – GM had ended production of its Chevrolet Cruze.
Hill cites the location of the village, access to rail and roads and the availability of vacant land, natural gas and electricity as drivers of the activity, along with the willingness of village officials to work with companies.
He views TJX’s decision to move forward with its 1.2-million-square-foot project as pivotal. The project had faced opposition from people who objected to rezoning land in the village.
“If TJX would have been shot down, we would have been shot down for 10 years – minimum,” Hill says. Other companies follow TJX and rely on the research it does when it investigates a community for investment. “If they follow them, then they’re going to rely on the research and they’re just going to come in and see what’s here.”
Old Dominion’s proposed site has “great access and works with our operations very well,” says Lindzi Bishop, civil engineer and pre-construction manager at Furst Construction Co., Salt Lake City, which would build the terminal. The village is “just a general overall great location for our company to have a new hub,” she adds.
Boston-based Clean Energy Future is working on raising $400 million in equity and plans to finance another $500 million to begin construction on a second gas-powered plant in the village, says the president of the company, Bill Siderewicz.
Under current plans, construction will begin in late summer, with the new plant – similar in size to the Lordstown Energy Center – up and running in July 2023.
Construction of the Trumbull Energy Center will require about 950 workers at the peak building period, Siderewicz says. “The primary driver is the changing energy environment. Ohio now sits on top of the lowest cost gas in the world.”
Potentially enhancing all of these projects is a massive – $40 million is the figure discussed, although that isn’t firm yet – infrastructure project proposed for the village.
The project would include adding transloading capabilities to Ohio Commerce Center, which would reduce shipping and transportation costs for companies that ship by truck, a smart fiber corridor along state Route 45, and infrastructure for autonomous vehicles on Route 45 and Bailey Road.
Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, which is working with Youngstown State University, the village and other entities, is fine-tuning the application, says Jim Kinnick, Eastgate executive director. The application deadline is May 18.
“We want to make sure what we’re looking for is deliverable and innovative and job creating,” Kinnick says. “That’s what we’re trying to identify in our task.”
“If we could get big companies such as TJX and other ones to bring stuff and have it offloaded here rather than in Cleveland or some other place, we could save a lot of trucking costs,” Mayor Hill says.
With an intermodal setup, trains could be unloaded at the commerce center for $200 per car, versus the $600 per car elsewhere, he says.
“If you’re in business, you try to cut all the costs you can without cutting services. And that’s exactly what we could do if we could get them to put an intermodal here in the commerce center,” the mayor continues. Such a center could also draw more business to the village.
“It could be a great opportunity,” says U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio. “It will have such an impact on this entire project here.”
Ryan, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, notes the committee put an additional $1 billion into the Build grant program.
Ryan worked with Eastgate and the other local partners to secure the $10.8 million Build grant awarded to Youngstown, but does not think securing a second grant for the Mahoning Valley is out of the question, given that Akron received two similar grants.
“It’s not out of the realm of possibility and it helps that I’m on the committee that helps put the money in,” he says.
Pictured: Lordstown Energy Center began operation in 2018. Construction on a second power plant at the site will begin in summer.