Once United Auto Workers members complete the deal with General Motors Co., the Lordstown Assembly will no longer manufacture Chevrolet cars. But the financially troubled Mahoning Valley is ready to fight back and build its own remake.

The corner of northeastern Ohio, steeped in production, is about to play a claim in Auto 2.0 by becoming a next-generation car electrification mecca. GM is negotiating to sell the burgeoning Lordstown complex for the launch of an electric vehicle, and it is in the process of forming a joint venture with LG Chem Ltd. to build a battery cell manufacturing business in the region, according to a source familiar with the collaboration.

Buy Photo

The sign in front of General Motors Co. & # 39; s Lordstown Assembly Plant welcomes drivers leaving the Ohio Turnpike. The site could soon be home to a new electric truck manufacturer, Lordstown Motors Corp. (Photo: Nora Naughton, The Detroit News)

Steel City and its two counties have not always been this way. For decades, the valley's steel fires burned through the night, and their fires lit the region's skyline, forming a lifestyle for the people living there.

"We have an opportunity to stand out for what we have always been good at," said Rick Stockburger, president and CEO of Brite Energy Innovators, an energy incubator in Warren, Ohio. "At the end of the day, we're still building cars … we're still creating value. That's what the Mahoning Valley has always been able to do is create value whether it's steel production or car production."

This time the leaders in the valley say, will be different. Instead of following the big industry and reaping the rewards it is willing to make, the region is gathering around a vision of leveraging its heritage to become a hub for the development and production of electric vehicles. And that answers a major concern of UAW dealers in conversations with GM: how to handle the transition to electric vehicles and the implications for union jobs.

Ohio, State of Sens. Michael Rulli, left, and Sean O & # 39; Brien recently visited the Workhorse Group Inc. facility in Cincinnati. Workhorse is partnering with the newly formed Lordstown Motors Corp., which wants to buy the unassigned General Motors Assembly Plant to build a new electric pickup with Workhorse technology. (Photo: Courtesy of Sen. Sean O'Brien)

When the steel industry collapsed in the late 1970s – thousands of jobs were eliminated in a week – GM's Lordstown Assembly resumed. It was opened in 1966 and transformed the valley's identity into a car town, and its gravel, resilient and hard-working attitude is a legacy of the steel mills.

Parts of the valley are still dependent on the loss of the GM Lordstown complex. But others are celebrating what could be a triumph for a region that has been reinventing itself for decades and builds on what it does best: to make things together.

Valley Incubators, Brite and Youngstown Business Incubator, known as YBI, are central to the area's transformation from rust belt to technical belt, officials say. YBI's push to become an incubator for additive manufacturing has spurred interest from the additive industry or 3D start-up nationally and internationally. America Makes – the Obama-era National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute center in downtown Youngstown – has also helped.

Up the hill from YBI lies the growing Youngstown State University, another critical partner in the region's transformation. President Jim Tressel is pushing to ensure that the university has a seat at the table to become part of the automotive industry's electric future.

"It's just a buzz here," Tressel told the Detroit News. "We have this huge opportunity. We must appreciate it. We must believe in it, and we must roll up our sleeves and make it successful."

This summer, Tressel and other stakeholders in the Valley met with representatives from Lordstown Motors Corp., the electric startup that negotiates to buy GM's burgeoning Lordstown complex. Lordstown Motors wants to make the complex the headquarters, research and production site for its electric commercial pickup called Endurance, named after the people of the Mahoning Valley. The company plans to hire 400.

"I've been to many locker rooms where we didn't like the score, but we had to figure out how to change the score," said retired Tressel football coach who led both YSU and Ohio State University to national championships.

He sees the potential investment of Lordstown Motors and the GM joint venture as ways for the valley to change the score in favor. He wants to see YSU play a key role in helping to change the score with a fitness center to prepare YSU students in the electric car field.

"I really believed in this whole discussion that GM wasn't so excited that they felt they needed to shut down Lordstown," Tressel said. And now "the company is trying to contribute to our (valley) future in a new and exciting way."

By 2023, GM plans to introduce 20 all-electric nameplates. The company plans to invest $ 300 million at the Lake Orion assembly plant north of Detroit, where the electric Chevrolet Bolt is built, to produce new Chevrolet EVs. It will also invest $ 3 billion at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant – originally set to idle with Lordstown last year – for the electric truck and van assembly.

GM buys its Bolt and hybrid Chevrolet Volt battery cells from the Holland-based LG Chem Michigan Inc., which could not be reached after repeated comment attempts. GM's Brownstown Township plant assembles lithium-ion battery packs. The plant planned for Ohio would build battery cells and would employ 1,000, the automaker confirmed.

"Production is and always will be at the heart of what we do here," said Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber President James Dignan. "It's just going to look and feel different than it did before."

The loss of GM Lordstown continues to soar. The roughly 1400 employed there when the last Chevrolet Cruze rolled off the line in March have pretty much all been transferred to other GM plants, leaving friends, family and homes.

GM Lordstown's closure has already plagued the local economy, officials say. Salaries related to the facility totaled $ 221 million, generating $ 40.4 million in payroll taxes in 2018. The loss of a top employer is not something the Valley has not seen before, but the Valley's response this time feels different.

"The valley has always been reactive …. This is an opportunity to get in the front end," Stockburger said. "For once, we try to control our own destiny. We have the opportunity to be at the table and be responsible. You will never waste a good tragedy."

Brite works with Hyperion Motors, a California electric vehicle startup focused on developing electric vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Hyperion, led by CEO Angelo Kafantaris, a native of Warren, Ohio, plans to build an engineering facility in the Northeast Ohio region.

FILE – Amy Drennen, right, from Lordstown, Ohio, employed by General Motors for 12 years, receives a hug from Pam Clark as people gather in front of General Motors assembly plant on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 in Lordstown, Ohio. Wednesday is the last day of the factory's Chevrolet Cruze production, a move that will eliminate nearly 1,700 schedules and idle the plant. (Photo: (Steph Chambers, Pittsburgh Post)

"We want to give back," Kafantaris said, "but more importantly, there's a whole lot of talent in the Midwest."

An op- ed in The Vindicator of Dignan that encouraged the valley to embrace being ahead of the EV revolution, caught the eye of David Myhal, an officer at Toyo System USA Inc. in Columbus. Myhal, another native valley, thought Toyo might be part of the EV Revolution in Mahoning Valley.

The Japanese company specializes in battery testing, and most major electric vehicle manufacturers in Japan – including Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. – use their battery testing machines, according to the company's website. Toyo is still in information collection mode, but is interested in potentially collaborating with the electric car investments made in the valley.

"I think it's a great opportunity," Myhal said. "It's clearly the Lordstown facility for my entity. The wheat season has been an integral part of the valley. I would absolutely love to be a part of bringing life back to it. "

khall@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @bykaleahall

Read or share this story: https: //www.detroitnews .com / story / business / autos / general-engines / 2019 / 10/23 / Youngstown Angles-Become-Electric-Mecca Cars / 4057440002 /