Last Hurrah: Arno Hill Reflects on 30 Years of Public Service

LORDSTOWN, Ohio – The Finns have a word: “sisu.” And while there’s no precise translation in English, the term loosely refers to an inner force that demonstrates “perseverance” or “grit” – essentially the ability to overcome adversity.

After more than three decades of public service, outgoing Mayor Arno Hill says he’s often had to summon his “sisu” and Finnish heritage as he’s navigated political life in Lordstown and Trumbull County.

“My mother was born in Finland, and my dad’s parents were born there,” Hill says as he sits back in a comfortable office chair. “So I’m 100% Finn. Sisu is what the Finns call on to get you through.”  

Hill opted not to seek re-election in 2023. His last day is Dec. 31. Jackie Woodward, the mayor-elect will take office Jan. 1.

As mayor and a member of Village Council, Hill has witnessed some of the best and worst times for the village. Among the worst was the unwinding and closing of General Motors Co.’s Lordstown assembly plant in 2019 – the manufacturing behemoth that employed 13,000 autoworkers during the 1970s and 1980s.

But there were also major triumphs. He cites the TJX HomeGoods distribution center that opened two years ago and has since created upwards of 1,400 jobs; Ultium Cells LLC’s $2.3 billion electric vehicle battery cell manufacturing plant, which employs more than 1,700 today; and two combined-cycle electrical generation plants.

Hill was born in Warren, and his family moved to Champion a year and a half later. “I graduated from Champion High School,” he says.  At age 19, he joined what was then Packard Electric’s tool and die apprentice program and worked in that department for 26 years.

Hill happened upon Lordstown almost by accident.  After living in Champion, he moved briefly to Vienna Township and decided to sell the house there after two years.  

“The lady who sold the house was a realtor from Lordstown,” he recalls. She mentioned that there was a nice house for sale in the village, and that the amenities were great. Hill looked at the house, made an offer and became a Lordstown resident.

Three years later, he opted to join his next-door neighbor at some village council meetings. “I became friends with the incumbent mayor, Walter Craigo,” he says.

In 1991, Craigo, citing health issues, opted not to seek re-election. “I jumped in,” he recalls. “I had lived here five years when I ran for mayor, and I won the first time.”

Such a feat was unusual for a village newcomer, Hill says, since Lordstown is such a tight community. But his door-to-door campaign strategy worked, and at age 38, he became Lordstown’s youngest mayor Jan. 1, 1992.

Hill, a Republican, served 12 years during his first stint as mayor. In 2003, he was defeated for re-election by Michael Chaffee. Hill then opted to run for a seat on council, where he served for six years.

Then, in 2011, Hill ran for mayor again, this time barely squeaking out a victory by just six votes.  When he ran again four years later, he polled 59.9% of the vote. In 2019, he won with a 65.3% majority.  

“That tells me that people were, for the most part, happy with the way the village was going,” he said.

New Development

Hill said the loss of GM was a blow to Lordstown, as the plant generated $3 million of income tax annually when all three shifts were operating.

However, Hill said the village didn’t rely on that money for day-to-day operations, and by the time GM shut down the plant, Lordstown had diversified its tax base.

The decision of Ultium Cells –a joint venture between GM and Korea-based LG Energy Solution – to construct its battery-cell manufacturing plant in the village helped to soothe some of the pain.

At the same time, the former GM plant is now under the ownership of Foxconn, which intends to act as a contract manufacturer for future EV products.

Add to this list companies such as Matalco, TJX, M&M Industries and other businesses that have moved into the village, and you have a solid, diversified local economy, Hill says.

The outgoing mayor credits partners such as the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, the Western Reserve Port Authority and other development organizations that have helped bring these projects to fruition.

Still, the mayor says there are several projects he wishes he could have completed.  

For example, he regrets his administration couldn’t deliver new gas lines for residents or sewer service to some parts of the village. “Those are the two biggies,” he says.

But overall, he believes his tenure in public office has had a positive impact on both Lordstown and the Mahoning Valley.

“I had a resident tell me that you were the right person at the right time to get Lordstown through the downward trend. I appreciated that.”

Maintaining a strong working relationship with community, business and political leaders was a vital part of his career as mayor.

“I’m sure I’ve made a few miscues,” he reflects. “But overall, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished – with the help of everybody else.”

Future Plans

As for the future, Hill, who turns 71 on Jan. 2, says he wants to put politics behind him and concentrate on a life of travel and family.

“Politics has gotten so ugly over the last couple of years,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to get any better.”

He and his wife, Carol, plan to spend more time with their five daughters and 10 grandchildren, at their house in Saybrook on Lake Erie, and perhaps take trips to Finland to visit friends and relatives.  

“A lot of people don’t know when to say ‘when,’” Hill said. “I did.”

Pictured at top: Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.