Economic Development

Missile Defense Advocate to Visit Camp Garfield in March

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio – The founder of an advocacy group that supports the development of missile defense systems for the United States and its allies is expected to tour Camp James A. Garfield Joint Military Training Center in March, officials say.

Riki Ellis, founder and chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, based in Alexandria, Va., plans to visit the base March 6, said Guy Coviello, president of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber Foundation.  

“That organization last year went on the record saying that Camp Garfield is the best place to put a ground-based missile defense system,” Coviello said after addressing guests at the chamber’s Good Morning Austintown breakfast Friday at Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course.

Ellison’s visit is part of the Chamber’s Lattes & Legislators program, he said.

Camp Garfield – formerly known as Camp Ravenna – was identified as one of the three preferred sites to develop a continental-based missile defense system in the United States.  The base, constructed in 1942, occupies 21,000 acres and is located in both Portage and Trumbull counties.

The U.S. Department of Defense is in the process of conducting a feasibility study was to whether such a ground-based defense system is necessary.  

On Jan. 17, President Donald Trump unveiled the results of the congressionally mandated Missile Defense Review, the first since 2010. That plan suggests the installation of new interceptor missiles at a facility in Alaska, detection sensors deployed in outer space, radar upgrades and leaves open the possibility of building another interceptor site.

“The timing is ideal,” Coviello said of Ellison’s visit in March.

Ellison, a former NFL linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers during the 1980s – an era when Youngstown-based Edward DeBartolo Jr. owned the team – established the Missile Defense Alliance in 2002. He has visited more than 500 missile installations around the world and pushed for missile defense in all 50 states and 26 countries, according to alliance’s organization’s website.

A missile installation at Camp Garfield would mean a $5 billion investment, the use of thousands of construction workers over a five-year period to build the base and a permanent workforce of 850 scientists and engineers at the site, Coviello said.

It would also encourage defense contractors from outside the area to locate in the region, Coviello said.  “When we think about the level of employment, the types of jobs, the families that would be moving in here – it could really transform our economy as we know it.”

Attendees at the breakfast also heard from Austintown Trustee Jim Davis and Austintown Schools Superintendent Vince Colaluca. Chemical Bank and Steward WorkMED sponsored the event.  

Business and community leaders also received an update on the Drive It Home campaign, a coalition of business and community leaders, labor, public officials and others to help support General Motors Co.’s Lordstown plant secure a new product.

“My vision is, let’s be part of that future,” said Regional Chamber CEO James Dignan.

The campaign was launched just before Thanksgiving. The following week, GM announced that it would cease production of the Chevrolet Cruze, the single vehicle produced and the plant and idle the facility.

“When it kicked off, the Drive It Home campaign was built around local awareness, educating the people here in the Valley about GM and the impact of the facility,” he said. The campaign has also reached out to state and federal lawmakers to establish a line of communications.

Ohio’s two U.S. senators – Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican – and U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-13, and Bill Johnson, R-6, have met with GM CEO Mary Barra to lobby for Lordstown’s future.  

Last week, Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted met with GM CEO Mary Barra in Detroit to discuss the prospects of securing a new product for Lordstown.  

“His first official visit out of the gate was to go to Detroit and have that conversation,” Dignan said. “He made that promise and held true to that.  Now, we have to wait and see.”

Barra offered no commitments regarding the future of the Lordstown plant. The final day of production is March 8, after which the plant will be shut down.

“The discussion is taking place and that’s a key part of it,” Dignan said, noting that even though Lordstown will be shuttered, there are prospects of luring a new product – or several products – to the plant that are in line with GM’s plans for the future.

“They’re remaking GM into something different,” Dignan said, emphasizing the best outcome for the Lordstown plant would be to land models that fit the automaker’s future, such as electric- or hydrogen cell-powered vehicles or automated cars and trucks.

“We have the expertise in the Valley of advanced manufacturing,” he said, citing the Youngstown Business Incubator and America Makes in Youngstown and the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center in Warren.

“Let’s make a facility of the 21st century out of the one that we have from the 20th century,” he said.

Pictured: Regional Chamber President and CEO James Dignan gave updates on Camp Garfield and the Drive It Home campaign at the Good Morning Austintown breakfast Friday.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.