GM Lordstown

Youngstown Leaders Consider a Future with or without GM

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – While the future of the General Motors Lordstown Complex isn’t certain, elected officials and business leaders say the future of the Mahoning Valley cannot rely on the auto manufacturing plant alone.

At the YSU + City of Youngstown = Stronger Community panel discussion Tuesday evening in DeBartolo Hall, Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel, Youngstown Business Incubator Huntington Bank entrepreneur in residence Jim Cossler and Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown discussed the closing of GM Lordstown. Though they were optimistic about the plant, they considered what a post-GM future would look like.

“I have hopes that they aren’t going to move out,” Tressel said. “We just need to recollect and go from there, and then work on doing better across the board.”

GM halting production of the Chevrolet Cruze, effective March 1 at both the Lordstown plant and in Mexico, places even more importance on organizations like America Makes and the Youngstown Business Incubator to establish new opportunities for job creation in the area, Tressel said. He is hopeful for good news about GM Lordstown, but acknowledged that future progress will require a collective effort, he said.

“Either way, I don’t think we can just count on one thing or the other,” he said. “If the whole world is waiting for YSU to solve the all the problems – or YBI or GM or the city – it’s not going to work. But collectively we have to do our best. With or without GM, it’s not going to stop our future.”

Despite the uncertainty of the future of GM Lordstown, Brown reminded those gathered that “this isn’t an official close,” and that officials must be assertive rather than waiting for things to change.

“We plan to stay in communication with those in charge of the destiny of [GM] Lordstown,” Brown said. “I’ve sent a letter to our President [Donald Trump] in the past. Those in charge need to be held accountable for what happens or what they say will happen. I don’t want promises.”

Cossler sees the idling of the GM plant as an opportunity for entrepreneurship and start-up advancement in the city, he said. If the community focused more on creating and supporting area businesses, it could turn enough profit to replace the potential loss of GM, he said.

“It’s interesting because the minute the news was announced to the public, we started getting phone calls from GM workers looking to start up businesses. We’ve had at least 15 calls in the first 24 hours,” Cossler said. “Sometimes adversity like this sends a spark.”

Cossler said he’s looking forward to growing the potential at the YBI and for local companies and entrepreneurship to increase.

“We have a bad reputation for making people think they need a connection with someone or something here to start a business or have a successful business,” he said.

The future of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley starts with the upcoming generation, he said. Cossler proposed that YSU rework its current class schedule to allow students more opportunities like community service and internships to get real-life experience and education in their chosen fields, to which Tressel agreed.

The culture of “go to school and then leave” needs to change, Cossler said, though he added that he sometimes encourages students to leave Youngstown only to discover that the city has just as much, if not more, opportunity as many other big cities do.

“If you want to live in Pittsburgh or Cleveland, Seattle, wherever, that’s fine. Go,” said Cossler. “But then come back. Come back with new knowledge on innovation and creativity, and use that to give back to your hometown.”

When asked what he wanted for the future of Youngstown and the university, Brown said he wanted the area to be competitive nationally and internationally, and to use resources more efficiently and effectively. He plans to evaluate how the city conducts business internally and externally, he said.

“I want us to start winning again,” he said.

Tressel looks to court more input from students on what they want to see in Youngstown, he said.

“The opportunities here are endless,” he said. “We need to be a group that understands the difficulty of the opportunities to come, and we need to do what’s good for the whole, for everyone in the community.”

When a student in attendance brought up the idea of a women’s center for female students who have experienced sexual assault, Tressel said that he isn’t sure that the university has that issue as much as some other universities do, and wants to be proactive and have a place for both men and women to go for mental health and dealing with stress and other factors during school. However, money will always be an issue, he said.

Brown agreed with the student, saying that he wants his two daughters to grow up feeling safe in a college environment. Having resources available to students who are struggling is vital to a safe campus and stronger community, he said.

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