YSU, Foxconn, Target Lordstown Area for Training Center

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A partnership between Youngstown State University and Foxconn is eyeing the Lordstown area to establish a national electric-vehicle workforce training and innovation center, officials said Wednesday.

“We are envisioning it to be built at our Foxconn Ohio facility,” Rick Rajaie, vice president of operations at Foxconn EV North America, told reporters following a press event at YSU’s Excellence Training Center announcing the project. “We do have existing buildings readily available for expansion.”

The goal is to have all of the agreements in place over the next few months, Rajaie said. These agreements will establish a framework regarding details of the project, including the estimated number of users, buildings and investment in the new center.

Development of the center would coincide with Foxconn’s efforts to build both a contract manufacturing and supplier base in Lordstown, Rajaie said.

“Definitely, this expansion is going to be along with our strategic partners, some of our suppliers, and others that we’re in serious negotiation to localize the facilities in our campus,” he said.

Principals will spend the next 90 days planning some of the details of the new training center, said Jennifer Oddo, executive director, of the YSU division of workforce education and innovation.

“I’m a true believer that we need to be co-located with industry to make sure we’re really galvanizing those opportunities,” she said.  “It will likely be a stand alone facility, likely in the Lordstown-Warren area.”

Oddo, also president of the YSU Research Foundation, said this project has the potential to secure for the Mahoning Valley – since dubbed “Voltage Valley” – a hub that will serve the entire country.

“What we’re doing here is bigger than YSU,” Oddo said. “It is about bringing the industry together and hoping to leverage workforce as a lever for business and economic development.”

Oddo said developing a skilled and talented workforce is critical to manufacturers across the country, particularly in energy and electric-vehicle production. “We know that most companies – the No. 1 or No.2 things that keeps them up at night is workforce.”

Foxconn, the largest tech company of its kind in the world, purchased from Lordstown Motors the six-million-square foot auto manufacturing plant in May for $230 million.  The plant served as General Motors Co.’s assembly operations for more than 50 years.

Since the purchase, Foxconn has signed contract manufacturing-agreements with Lordstown Motors and Monarch Tractor.  Lordstown Motors is now in limited production of its all-electric Endurance pickup, while Foxconn will begin manufacturing Monarch’s MK-V Series  — a driverless option electric tractor.

It has also signed a framework agreement with Fisker Inc. to produce the Fisker Pear EV, and recently inked a memorandum of understanding with IndiEV to manufacture a prototype of its electric vehicle.

At the same time, major investments such as Ultium Cells LLC’s new $2.3 billion battery-cell manufacturing plant has started production in Lordstown. Ultium, a joint venture between GM and LG Energy Solution, supplies battery cells used in GM’s new Hummer EV and Cadillac Lyriq.

Critical to the success of “Voltage Valley” is a highly trained workforce, Oddo said.  “The research we did through the Department of Energy and stakeholder interviews showed that we need a one-stop-shop,” she said. “We need to create a hub to make it easier and more accessible for states, and companies to develop the workforce.”

The new training center will focus on helping the emerging EV industry to build and scale a sustainable workforce around advanced manufacturing, energy storage and other integrated technology solutions, such as artificial intelligence, 5G and cybersecurity.

While there’s no dedicated timeline as to when the center would be be operating, Oddo said YSU is already moving forward with curriculum that would fit the project’s mission.

“YSU just launched, in Beta, a Battery 101 course,” she said. “We are looking at different ways how we can accelerate this.”

Foxconn’s Rajaie added that the purpose of the center is not to train and hire students solely from the local market, but also to attract others to the region.

“We have to be unconventional,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of training a certain group of local students and hope for the best. We have to entertain and exercise all our options.”

YSU President Jim Tressel said the center is the product of years of work.

“The fun of days like today is that they didn’t start happening yesterday,” he said. “Our faculty has been dreaming about how we could be in the advanced manufacturing and advanced technology world and prepare our students for bright futures.”

Tressel, who is retiring Jan. 31, said tthe Excellence Training Center in downtown Youngstown has helped to spread the word about advanced manufacturing.

“More than 678 students have taken classes here at the Excellence Training Center,” he said, while 3,067 have registered for YSU’s online skills accelerator and 846 K-12 students have come through the center to experience advanced manufacturing firsthand.

Foxconn and Ultium, plus the role of multiple economic development agencies, elected officials, and other visionaries helped to bring this project together, officials said.  The effort will be funded in part through money that GM committed to the region.

YSU received $5 million of $12 million in funds that General Motors Co. earmarked for the Mahoning Valley as part of a $40 million tax credit settlement the automaker negotiated with the state in 2020.  Under the agreement, GM was to repay $28 million in tax credits and devote $12 million to the Mahoning Valley for breaching development contracts related to the closure of its Lordstown plant in 2019.

State Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, said that it’s imperative that this region secure its future with electric vehicles through workforce development.

“The future cannot come if the workforce is not in place,” he said. He also advocated expanding the access to electric power through the development of natural gas-fueled combined cycle electrical plants, such as the Trumbull Energy Center, the second such plant slated for Lordstown.

“The entire country’s spotlight is coming right here, right now,” he said.

Also attending the event were U.S. Reps. Bill Johnson, R-6, and David Joyce, R-14, who now represents an area that will include Trumbull County because of redistricting.  Both expressed their support for the project.

“Partnerships like this are much needed,” Joyce said. “Working together, across the aisle on federal, state and local levels, will help restore the legacy of the American worker.”

Johnson, who represents the 6th District, which now includes Boardman and Canfield, said this project exemplifies the same type of innovation and foresight that propelled man to the moon during the 1960s.

“What we’re doing here today – this is just the beginning of a fantastic journey,” he said. “A journey of innovation and excitement.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13, and the Democratic Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate in Ohio, said the new training center establishes the Mahoning Valley as a pioneering force as the auto industry transitions to EVs. 

“This announcement is a colossal victory for Voltage Valley that will bring good-paying jobs back to our region and prepare our workers to once again lead the auto industry into the future,” Tim Ryan said in a statement.  “With investments on the way from our Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, we are ushering in a new era of manufacturing not only in the Mahoning Valley, but all across our great state.”

Pictured at top: U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce, R-14; Rick Rajaie, vice president of operations at Foxconn EV North America; Jennifer Oddo, executive director, YSU division of workforce education and innovation; YSU President Jim Tressel; State Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.