In Ohio, Lordstown Mayor Says It's Been Quiet Since General Motors Plant Closed

Mar 19, 2019
Originally published on March 19, 2019 9:39 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

General Motors shut down its auto factory in Lordstown, Ohio, two weeks ago as part of a massive restructuring that's affected GM plants from Detroit to Baltimore. But it's the one in Lordstown that's got President Trump's attention.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

He has been tweeting about it since Sunday, urging GM to work with the labor union to quickly reopen the plant or sell it. GM and the United Auto Workers plan to hold contract talks this fall. The president says that's not soon enough.

CHANG: To get a sense of what it's like in Lordstown right now, we checked in with Mayor Arno Hill. He says since the GM plant closed, it's been quiet.

ARNO HILL: We had three shifts two years ago, and now we're down to zero shifts, so the traffic's definitely down. Right now, you know, everybody's in a state of limbo wondering should they take a transfer, should they try to wait it out? The ripple effect is what's really pretty devastating for our area.

CHANG: I was wondering if you could paint a picture for us of Lordstown for people who aren't familiar with the place. About how many people live there?

HILL: There's about 3,200 people. We have about 25 square miles. We have a lot of agriculture. We have a big General Motors plant.

CHANG: For quite some time, GM has been the main employer in the town, is that correct?

HILL: They are still the main employer. Well, they were until they closed down. They've been there 53 years, and we're hoping to keep them there by getting another product.

CHANG: Have people moved away because of the plant's closure already?

HILL: We have had some people relocate - Spring Hill, Tenn., Arlington, Texas.

CHANG: Quite a few.

HILL: I'd say quite a few. I'd say there's probably been eight to 10 families who have either moved or the person who worked for General Motors has moved, and the other ones are going to be following. So, yeah, we have had people move.

CHANG: I'm curious. Have you had an opportunity to speak to President Trump recently? He's been certainly talking about your town in his tweets.

HILL: Yes, he has. I've talked to somebody from his office of governmental affairs. Tomorrow, he's going to be in Canton, Ohio, which is probably about less than an hour's drive away, but they've - with his busy schedule, he could not get me worked in. But if he does come nearby, I told them I would like to meet with the president sooner than later. I believe that's the same terms the president used with negotiations. He'd like to see it done sooner than later. But we're going to see if we can get something to try to get together with him.

CHANG: Well, if you do have a chance to talk to President Trump, what would you say to him?

HILL: I would say I'd appreciate any effort we can to try to keep a General Motors plant product here. If not, I can agree that we want - we'd like to have the plant repurposed. You know, the rest of the country seems to be going very well, but for our little section of northeast Ohio, it seems like whenever there's an economic downturn, we never quite come up to where we were before the downturn started. And that is a real enigma to me. I can't figure out why.

CHANG: There is some speculation that the president is impatient because he's looking to 2020, and Ohio obviously is an important swing state in the presidential election. He campaigned in 2016 on bringing manufacturing back to the heartland. What do you expect of President Trump to improve things in Lordstown specifically?

HILL: I'd like to see him get the UAW and General Motors to the table. You know, he made promises. You know, we want to keep manufacturing in Ohio, and we want to - don't sell your house. Well, you know, I'm looking at it from a local view. I want to get the jobs back in Lordstown in the Mahoning Valley.

CHANG: And do you think that he has the power as the president to actually make that happen?

HILL: I don't know whether he can, but he can certainly, you know, give both sides a little bit of a push to try to make it happen. I don't know the reason why they're not at the table negotiating right now.

CHANG: Mayor Arno Hill of Lordstown, Ohio, thank you very much for joining us today.

HILL: You're welcome.

CHANG: In response to President Trump's tweets, General Motors says it is open to talking with all stakeholders, but the plant's future will be resolved between the company and the United Auto Workers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.