TJX Fallout: Cafaro Blasts Lordstown Officials for ‘Lack of Backbone’
LORDSTOWN, Ohio – Mayor Arno Hill defended the village’s efforts in support of the TJX Companies Inc. and its proposed $160 million distribution center, following searing criticism from Anthony Cafaro Jr., co-president of the Cafaro Co. in Niles, that essentially called village officials cowards.
Cafaro accused them of bending to pressure from opponents of the company’s preferred site for the 1.2 million-square-foot distribution center, which would support TJX’s HomeGoods division. READ LETTER
“I did everything I could to keep [TJX] here. I can’t hold a gun to their heads and make them stay,” Hill said.
TJX announced this morning that it would withdraw its request to rezone seven parcels from residential to industrial at the 290-acre project site, at Interstate 80 and Ellsworth-Bailey road, just west of the Imperial Communities trailer park at 3293 Ellsworth-Bailey Road SW.
The Lordstown Planning Commission was to consider the rezoning request at a meeting Wednesday night.
In the statement emailed at 10:30 a.m., HomeGoods spokeswoman Erika Tower cited concerns that a “group of neighboring residents” expressed regarding the proposed site in the company’s decision to reconsider its options for the project.
“At HomeGoods, having a strong relationship with our communities is important to us and a core part of who we are and how we do business,” she said. In a follow-up email, she declined to say whether the Lordstown site or any other Mahoning Valley properties remained under consideration.
Lordstown resident Kathy Dickson said in an email Friday afternoon that she and other opponents of the proposed site want to help bring the project to the village on industrial land.
“We are pleased that TJX continues to seek out other properties and hope they will consider our suggestions for the other viable I-1 property options in the village,” Dickson said. “We welcome TJX in the village on the right property as they would be a great benefit to the village as the village would be to them.”
In an interview this afternoon, Cafaro expressed his anger.
“The last thing that this community needs is to be branded or to reinforce the perception that this is not a business-friendly community or that we’re not open for business. We need to and should be encouraging any and every type of positive businesses and economic development that there is,” he said.
Massachusetts-based TJX, which operates the TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Sierra Trading Post and Homesense brands in addition to HomeGoods, has stores in dozens of Cafaro Co.-managed properties, Cafaro said.
“This is a legitimate, world-class business operation,” he asserted. If he were in TJX’s position, he would hope that that village leaders and elected officials would come forward to publicly declare their intention to “do what is right for the village and the community,” particularly in light of General Motors’ announcement that it plans to cut its second shift, idling 1,500 workers.
The HomeGoods center, which TJX wants to build for a 2020 start of operations, would employ 1,000 workers, from warehouse labor to back office operations. Annual payroll was projected at the $30 million range.
“Instead of embracing this opportunity with open arms and portraying a business-friendly attitude, as leaders, you cowered in the face of opposition and threats from a relatively few narrow-minded individuals,” Cafaro wrote in the letter addressed to village officials.
“Your collective lack of backbone has cost this region sorely needed jobs, millions of dollars in new investment and much needed optimism,” he said.
The Lordstown mayor, who hadn’t seen the letter before being contacted by The Business Journal, rejected the notion that village officials capitulated to opponents of the rezoning, who threatened to go to the ballot with a referendum if the village approved the zone change.
“We didn’t roll over. They said ‘Goodbye,’” Hill said.
That referendum wouldn’t have been able to go to voters until November he said. “There was noting we could do,” he said.
Hill and other local officials said they would continue their efforts to convince TJX to build the warehouse in Lordstown, a project they insist remains viable.
The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber will continue to work with TJX “as aggressively as we have from Day One” as company officials consider their options, said Sarah Boyarko, senior vide president for economic development at the chamber. That “certainly means consideration of properties outside of our market,” she added.
The chamber began working in early 2016 with TJX officials on the project. Last month, the chamber hosted meetings in the village with residents and company representatives to discuss their concerns.
“We were certainly disappointed with the news today. We do understand the company’s position,” Boyarko said.
TJX prefers to have “strong relationship” with the communities where it operates, Boyarko continued. “It is not going in that direction because of the continuing concerns of the neighboring residents,” she said.
“They want to be a good corporate citizen in any community where they’re making any investment.”
“TJX is a successful and growing company that would be an outstanding job creator and partner in the Valley,” Matt Englehart, spokesman for JobsOhio, said. “Along with Team NEO and our local partners as well as local officials, we have been working to attract this great job creation opportunity to the community and continue to do so.”
Like Cafaro, Boyarko expressed concern beyond the loss of the proposed 1,000 jobs and associated payroll accompanying the project, plus projected spinoff activity. The message TJX’s announcement projects “is a concern not only for” projects that the Mahoning Valley is being targeted for but also any developers who might be considering investment in the market, she said.
What with the announcements by GM and subcontractor Lordstown Seating Systems about their upcoming layoffs, “We need to work very hard to secure investments like this for our market, to not only replace employment opportunities that we are losing but to create new ones,” Boyarko added.
Other officials lamented the company’s announcement and its implication that the project appears dead locally.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, expressed his disappointment that TJX “felt it necessary to drop their plans to locate in Lordstown.”
In a statement, Ryan thanked Hill and his team for their efforts and said he immediately informed the company’s leadership that he wanted to work with them to find “suitable alternative sites” locally for the project.
“Throughout many conversations I have had with village of Lordstown officials and HomeGoods’ leadership, I have strongly supported this project since the very beginning. I have also said publicly that these opportunities don’t come along very often and we need to do all we can to land this investment,” Ryan said.
“We cannot let this opportunity slip away.”
State Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-63 Bazetta, described TJX’s announcement as “very frustrating.” He also expressed his commitment to work with the parties involved “to try to salvage the project” for the Valley.
“This is even more painful considering the General Motors announcement last week of over 1,000 layoffs,” O’Brien said. “This is a significant loss of potential economic development in our area.”
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