Portman Urges GM to Invest in Lordstown Motors
LORDSTOWN, Ohio – The last time U.S. Sen. Rob Portman set foot in General Motors’ former Lordstown plant, the factory was bustling with thousands of workers that produced the Chevrolet Cruze.
Today, the complex sits mostly empty in the wake of GM’s 2018 decision to close the plant. But the Ohio Republican said he’s optimistic vehicle production will one day return to the plant in full force beginning with the Endurance, the new all-electric pickup under development by Lordstown Motors Corp.
“I want to be very supportive of this project and this vehicle,” Portman said during a tour of the plant Wednesday, where he received his first glimpse of a prototype of the new pickup.
GM sold the sprawling, 6.2 million-square-foot facility to Lordstown Motors in November for $20 million. The Detroit automaker helped finance the deal by providing Lordstown Motors with a $40 million line of credit, which was intended to help the company purchase and begin retooling the plant as it raises additional capital.
Portman said it would be in GM’s best interest to do more.
“I’m still pushing General Motors to make an additional investment in this plant,” Portman told reporters after the tour. “I think it makes all the sense in the world because this vehicle fits very well with what General Motors says they want to do.”
He said GM’s decision to shutter Lordstown was “disappointing” and had a major impact on the local economy and the livelihoods of workers throughout the Mahoning Valley.
“I pushed hard for them to put another vehicle in here. They decided not to do that,” he said. “I was very disappointed.”
The new venture initially would not produce as many jobs in the plant as GM had; it’s projected about 400 or so would be needed to start production, compared to the more than 4,000 employed by GM there just three years ago, Portman said. Yet he noted that those numbers should grow over time if Lordstown Motors is successful.
Lordstown Motors should start producing the beta version of the Endurance pickup – about 30 test vehicles – during the first quarter of 2021, said Dan Tasiemski, director of general assembly. Commercial production is scheduled to begin next summer.
“We’re beginning retooling right now and getting the system ready to run vehicles,” he told the senator during the tour as they observed what once was the finishing line for the Cruze.
Portman credited GM for preserving the plant’s equipment and praised the company’s decision to invest $2.3 billion into a new battery-cell production plant nearby. The new project, under a joint venture with LG Chem named Ultium, would create upwards of 1,100 jobs that could double in production in the future, he said.
He added that the new truck, the battery plant, plus the engineering and research talent from nearby universities such as Youngstown State University could help redefine the Mahoning Valley as a center for electric-vehicle production and research.
The senator also addressed questions related to the economic crisis precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic.
During a short question and answer period with reporters following the tour, Portman said he would support another round of stimulus funding to help the struggling economy. He advocated additional help for those unemployed as a result of the pandemic and tax relief for those companies such as Lordstown Motors who are putting safety measures in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“We’re not going to get this economy running again until people know it can be done safely,” he said.
When asked whether he supported President Trump’s latest tweet that threatened cutting off funding for those schools that refuse to open in the fall, the senator responded by saying he didn’t see the president’s remarks.
However, he did emphasize that the next round of stimulus aid through the federal coronavirus relief bill includes provisions that increase funding for schools.
“We don’t want this economy to shut down again,” he said. “We want people to go back safely.”
He also voiced his support for an extension of the Payroll Protection Program. The program is administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration and provides loans directly to businesses that are impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The loans are forgiven as long as the company meets its job retention criteria and uses the money for eligible expenses.
Lordstown Motors received between $1 million and $2 million through the program, noting it used the money to retain 42 employees, according to data released by the SBA Monday.
Among the senator’s concerns are that many small businesses didn’t access loans during the first round because they may not have had the proper bank relationships or other information in hand to apply for the program.
As for attending the Republican National Convention, slated for Jacksonville, Fla., in August, Portman said he would first assess the severity of the pandemic before making a final decision.
“If the coronavirus pandemic spreads to a point where it’s not safe, then I’m going to discourage people from going,” he said. “Including me.”
Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.