DeWine Sees Bright Future for Valley During ‘Cabinet Day’

CANFIELD, Ohio – Developments such as that General Motors Co.’s announcement that it is co-developing a battery plant for electric vehicles portend a brighter future for the Mahoning Valley than Gov. Mike DeWine envisioned a year ago, the governor said.

The battery plant, which GM is partnering with South Korea’s LG Chem to develop, is “a real signal Ohio is going to lead in the production of the new cars of the future,” DeWine said.

On Wednesday, the governor discussed his vision for the region during what he described as “Cabinet Day in the Mahoning Valley.”

The day kicked off with events at Mahoning County Career & Technical Center, including an Ohio Department of Health roundtable followed by the first meeting of DeWine’s cabinet held outside of Columbus.

“I’m very optimistic about the future of the state of Ohio. I’m very optimistic about the future of the Mahoning Valley,” he said. “There are a lot of good things going on here. A year ago, things didn’t look quite as good.”

Through JobsOhio, a privatized economic development corporation, the state is considering economic incentives for both the GM-LG Chem project and Lordstown Motors Corp., the electric vehicle startup that acquired GM’s former Lordstown plant.

DeWine declined to discuss specific incentives that are being offered but described it as “real money.” Sometimes help involves job training assistance or other forms of support. Lordstown Motors’ challenge now is raising capital, he said.

“Where that’s going I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows at this point,” he said. “I know we have some people who really want to come in and make things happen.”

The GM-LG Chem battery plant and Lordstown Motors represent the Valley’s future in the automotive industry, said J.P. Nauseef, JobsOhio’s president and chief investment officer.

“JobsOhio has been developing a strategy focused around leveraging the existing manufacturing base but also looking at toward additive manufacturing for things like EVs [electric vehicles],” Nauseef said.

JobsOhio also works closely with universities and local chambers of commerce to promote connectivity through workforce programs to ensure the necessary workforce is available, he said. Availability of trained and experienced workers is the top criteria mentioned by “industry partners,” Nauseef said.

J.P. Nauseef, president and chief investment officer for JobsOhio.

DeWine said he had not reviewed the incentives proposed Tuesday by state Reps. Sean O’Brien and Michael Rulli to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles, but emphasized the importance of EV infrastructure. He reported he has told Jack Marchbanks, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, that Ohio needs to look at having charging stations at its rest stops.

“We need Ohio to lead,” DeWine said.

Transportation represents “a new paradigm shift,” similar to the launch of the World Wide Web or the introduction of the smartphone, Marchbanks said later during a presentation at Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.

“The combustion engine is going to go the way of the horse and buggy in your lifetime. It’s going to be gone by the time all of you hit your rest-home years,” he predicted. He credited former Gov. John Kasich and his ODOT director for their efforts to prepare Ohio for the forthcoming new technologies.

Following the cabinet meeting, heads of state agencies visited related local organizations and businesses for meetings, roundtables, check presentations and tours.

The meeting at Eastgate focused on initiatives such as DriveOhio, the state’s center for the advancement of smart mobility, and the upcoming $26.2 million upgrade of Youngstown’s Fifth Avenue and other downtown streets funded in part by a $10.8 million Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or Build, grant.

A groundbreaking for the first phase of the project, Fifth Avenue, is targeted for mid-April 2020, Stephen Zubyk, Build project manager at Eastgate. Work on the second phase, involving the six other streets, could get underway later in the year.

The autonomous shuttle that is the third phase of the Build grant-funded project will be the third deployment of the technology in Ohio, said Patrick Smith, interim SmartOhio director. Autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles represent a “transportation transformation,” he emphasized.

“This isn’t just about moving people from one end of town to the university or to Mercy Health, safely,” said Jim Kinnick, Eastgate executive director. “This is about introducing this technology to this region and running with that technology.”

That technology will be showcased in Youngstown this summer, when ODOT, DriveOhio and Eastgate host the 2020 Ohio Smart Mobility Summit. The event, scheduled for July 16-17 at the Covelli Centre, will feature demonstrations, vendor exhibits and guest speakers focused on automated and connected smart mobility technology

Jim Kinnick, Eastgate executive director, and Jack Marchbanks, ODOT director.

The summit “belongs in Columbus” but is coming here, Kinnick said. “This will be a big deal and we’re going to do it right,” he said.

As preparations begin for construction on the Build project, planners are looking at adding a new technological element, infrastructure for 5G wireless technology.

“We’ve defined that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to install that in our downtown area. We think that would add to the value offering of our infrastructure,” said Michael Hripko, associate vice president of external affairs, government relations and economic development at Youngstown State University.

The Build partners are working with the Western Reserve Port Authority to put out a request for proposals for assistance in operating and managing the 5G network, and to get some idea of the cost, Kinnick said. Installing conduits in the streets that are going to be upgraded during the Build project could cost up to $1 million, he estimated.

“We want to be perceived as a community that welcomes innovation,” Hripko said.

In the afternoon, DeWine visits Akron Children’s Hospital Beeghly Campus to sign H.B. 12, which creates a children’s behavioral health prevention network group. State. Rep. Don Manning, R-59, sponsored the bill with State Rep. Thomas West, D-49.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.