Put Everyone at the Table

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – We were pleasantly surprised at the Ohio Tax Credit Authority’s decision to require General Motors to repay $28 million of the $60.3 million in job creation and retention tax credits it received as an incentive to maintain operations at its Lordstown plant through 2037. The state panel ruled that GM reneged on agreements it signed when it closed the Trumbull County plant. 

Through decades of operations at Lordstown, GM received more than $1 billion in financial assistance from all levels of government. The hardships inflicted on this community by the plant closing and the hard work and sacrifices of its workers and suppliers cannot be forgotten. State officials were wise to order GM to pay up.

We bear GM no ill will. The Mahoning Valley eagerly awaits the jobs and opportunities that will be generated by the $2.3 billion Ultium Cells plant it is building in Lordstown with South Korean battery manufacturer LG Chem. On the same day the state tax authority ordered the Lordstown clawback, it awarded Ultium Cells a 15-year, 1.95% job creation tax credit worth $13.8 million.

While the clawback surprised us, we were thrilled by the news that GM would provide an additional $12 million toward community support initiatives in the Mahoning Valley. This development was far from expected. According to state officials, the money is to be spent on local workforce, education and infrastructure needs.

At this writing, there is no word when that $12 million will arrive, beyond a deadline of the end of 2022, or who determines how those funds will be spent.  

Our infrastructure needs are great but we believe most of the money should be spent on education and workforce development to prepare Valley residents for the jobs of the future. As The Business Journal’s Brain Gain editorial series has detailed, there are many outstanding programs here that do just that. Funding for these programs is scarce and this money could help.    

Further, there needs to be greater community representation at the tables where spending decisions are made. All too often, those seated do not reflect the ethnic or gender diversity of those who worked at GM Lordstown, let alone the Valley as a whole. As long as the community’s decision makers fail to reflect its composition, a full understanding of educational and social inequities – and potential solutions – will fall short.

We’re grateful for the commitment to this community that the GM payment represents. But putting a $12 million check in the hands of the usual decision-makers without a broader pool of input would be a missed opportunity. Yes, we need infrastructure, but $12 million doesn’t go very far when you’re building roads. Instead, we must address inequity, bolster workforce development and create a culture of entrepreneurship. That takes money, too. The payoff is keeping our kids here with meaningful employment in the jobs of the future.