LG Chem Vows to Hire Local, Delays Groundbreaking

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Though LG Chem is expecting a later start date than originally planned for its joint venture with General Motors Co. in Lordstown, executives from the South Korea-based company are committed to hiring local.

That was one of the main takeaways during a meeting Wednesday between LG Chem executives, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, and state Sens. Sean O’Brien, D-32 Bazetta, and Michael Rulli, R-33 Salem. At the meeting, LG Chem assured officials the vast majority of jobs at the $2.3 billion battery cell plant will be staffed with local workers.

“They said they’re not going to be bringing a lot of [their] people from Korea over,” O’Brien said during a phone conference following the meeting. “[They’ll] be training some of our people there for a short period of time, but bringing them back. It’s going to be local people doing these jobs.”

The plant CEO will be from LG Chem, which will contribute technology, research and development as it works with GM, and oversee plant production, training and research, O’Brien explained.

Officials project the plant will create 1,100 to 1,500 jobs paying $45,000 to $50,00 annually, Ryan said. The congressman hosted company executives at his Capitol Hill office. They included Jin-Won Park, senior vice president, head of policy research; Jun-Sung Park, vice president, public affairs; and Eun Kee, vice president, battery division. Nobody from GM was present.

“We wanted to let them know we are rolling out the red carpet for them. They want to get plugged in and embedded into the community,” Ryan said. “We want them to know that they have bipartisan support at the federal and state level for whatever they need. This is a hell of an opportunity that we haven’t seen in a long, long time.”

During the meeting, elected officials advised the South Korean executives about regional resources that would benefit the project, including Brite Energy Innovators, an incubator in downtown Warren that could be a possible partner with the battery testing lab, Ryan said.

The executives were also interested in working with Youngstown State University on research and Eastern Gateway Community College for training, O’Brien added.

“We talked about working with YSU and EGCC with training. They were excited about that and I think they are going to reach out,” O’Brien said. “They want to be part of the community.”

O’Brien has been in talks with Lordstown Motors Corp. CEO Steve Burns about possibly doing some type of work with LG Chem as well, he said.

“I mean they’re getting their batteries from somewhere else, but there’s a possibility of synergy with Lordstown Motors with LG and the GM joint venture. They’re right next door,” O’Brien said. “If they need batteries perhaps this could come into a different fruition of their business plan.”

Officials learned more about LG Chem’s work with other major auto manufacturers, including Land Rover, Jaguar, Volvo and Volkswagen, to name a few.

“I mean, the list went on and on. I think they covered about 80% of the market,” Rulli said.

Although the Mahoning Valley has had a contentious relationship with GM with the closure of its former Lordstown Assembly Plant, Ryan said he is committed to staying the course to procure some type of investment for the Valley.

“This is not about politics, it’s about jobs and transformation to our area to turn it into the electric [vehicle] capital of the world,” Rulli added.

Initially, LG Chem planned for an April groundbreaking at the 158-acre site in Lordstown. However, to allow for the permitting process through the Ohio Environmental Protection agency and mandatory wait times for public comment, which can take up to 45 days, that pushed the groundbreaking to July, Ryan explained. A completion date is targeted for early 2022.

The project requires application for a water quality certification permit from the OEPA, as well as approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. GM, on behalf of GigaPower LLC – the working legal name for the GM-LG Chem joint venture – applied Jan. 9 for the Ohio EPA permit.

To reduce the impact to 65.99 acres of forested and nonforested wetlands at the site, Gigapower proposed to provide a “permitee-responsible mitigation” for the on-site wetlands on an approximate 180-acre parcel in the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area northeast of Cortland, according to a public notice issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On March 12, the OEPA is hosting a public meeting regarding water-quality issues around the site. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. in Crawford Auditorium at Lordstown High School. Written comments may be submitted to the Ohio EPA through the close of business March 19.

“Discharges from the activity, if approved, would result in degradation to, or lowering of, the water quality of the Mud Creek watershed within the Mahoning Watershed,” the agency said in its notice of the meeting. “Ohio EPA will review the application and decide whether to grant or deny the certification.”

Ryan says he doesn’t expect a repeat of the public controversy that flared over construction of the 1.2-million-square-foot regional distribution center in Lordstown by TJX Companies Inc., which will serve its HomeGoods group of stores.

If any concerns are raised about the GM-LG Chem project, lawmakers will do everything possible to deal with them, he said.

Pictured: U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and state Sens. Sean O’Brien and Michael Rulli meet with executives from LG Chem to discuss next steps for its joint venture battery plant with GM.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.