Pennex Sees Opportunities at Lordstown Motors

LEETONIA, Ohio – Lordstown Motors Corp. starting operations could present new business opportunities for Pennex Aluminum Co.

Pennex is “heavy into the automotive industry,” particularly in lightweighting of vehicles, and is involved in the electric vehicle market as well, said general manager Chuck Stout. Pennex is unit of Metal Exchange Corp., based in St. Louis.

Lordstown Motors has announced plans to launch production of its Endurance electric-powered pickup truck in November at the former General Motors plant in Lordstown. The company will unveil the model at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this summer.

What opportunities Lordstown Motors represents for the Leetonia extrusion plant depends on what the company plans to do at the plant, Stout said.  

“We’re not 100% sure what that facility’s going to end up with,” Stout said. If Lordstown Motors builds trucks at the Lordstown plant, “We have a lot of capabilities, especially with the battery pack and the aluminum extrusions that go into that,” he said.  

In September, Pennex cut the ribbon on a $10 million, 115,000-square-foot expansion dedicated primarily to the value-added portion of the company’s business. “That’s really where we’re looking to grow, as long as the business can support that,” Stout said.

That expansion is on top of one that took place in 2015. The company has 185 employees and is preparing to bring on another 50.

“The people that I represent are excited about that kind of growth,” U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, said following a tour of the plant Friday. 

Johnson said he was at the plant to “talk to people that are creating jobs” and to learn about their challenges. 

Among those challenges is the exemptions Pennex is seeking to Section 232 tariffs on imported aluminum. The U.S. Commerce Department so far has refused the request by Metal Exchange Corp., Pennex’s parent company, for the exclusions. 

“We’ll keep pressing. What happened doesn’t make any sense,” Johnson told workers. “We don’t have a resolution on it yet, but we’re not going to quit trying because I think we made a very, very valid case,” he later added.   

During the meeting, Johnson called the company a success story and said there are “lots of reasons to be optimistic about where we are and where we’re going,” including the overall strength of the economy and low unemployment. He touted economic opportunities such as the potential Belmont County ethane cracker plant, which received a go-ahead for construction from Ohio Environmental Protection Agency in December.

“That is still moving in the right direction,” the congressman said. 

What makes the U.S. economy different from those in countries like China, India, Russia and others is that innovation here “comes from the bottom up,” he said. 

China has built the fastest-growing economy on the planet by stealing others’ ideas, primarily that of the United States, Johnson asserted. If China becomes the world’s largest economy, other nations will want to talk to it about financing projects and where to put their research dollars, he warned. 

“We don’t want that, so you better believe that there’s a lot of effort in Washington to look at where we put those critical taxpayer dollar resources into the right kind of programs that are going to advance America’s economic growth on the global stage,” he said.   

Innovation takes place every day on the plant floor, said Rick Merluzzi, CEO of Metal Exchange. “The thing that differentiates Pennex is in this room today” – the employees – he said. 

Another of the issues Pennex faces is finding those employees. The challenge is finding people who can deal with the automation and the level of robotics employed in the plant.

“What’s important is where we invest. We’ve invested a lot in our equipment but, more importantly, we invest in our people,” Stout said. “Our long-term success is all driven by the people we bring in, the training that we get and really how much they care about what we do.” 

Pictured: Pennex technology manager Henry Bertolini leads a tour for U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.