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Don’t let automaking future slip by in our area

General Motors CEO Mary Barra is vowing an “all-electric future” when it comes to new automobiles. To get there, GM has been wading through a restructuring plan in attempts to raise cash to help develop 20 electric models that it plans to sell worldwide by 2023.

Organized labor has responded with great reluctance, digging in and hoping to keep the factories churning out new cars with little or no decline in the number of unionized workers or their paychecks. It’s not hard to understand their personal concerns.

But here in northeast Ohio, we must consider this. With this year’s idling of the General Motors Lordstown complex came the very real possibility that for the first time in more than a century, this region could be without any whisper of the automotive manufacturing industry.

That proud history, of course, dates back to the manufacture of the early Packard motor cars in Warren. It includes assembly of numerous General Motors models; stamping out steel bodies and parts; manufacturing Delphi Packard automotive electrical harnesses; not to mention all the other parts like seats and windshields that have been molded and manufactured here.

In a blink with the unallocated status of the local GM complex, that came to a screeching halt. And with it, thousands of Mahoning Valley jobs were lost.

But now, as part of the ongoing labor contract talks, GM has told United Auto Workers negotiators the company wants to open its first battery-cell manufacturing facility right here in Lordstown. Sources say the automaker wants the plant to be run by a joint venture or a battery company.

Yes, it would be staffed by fewer union workers earning less than the $30 per hour that many UAW members currently make on the assembly lines.

But let’s keep in mind that the outlook is bright for the future of electric vehicles. And with a local battery plant, our area suddenly would again become a crucial part of a growing industry.

While it’s difficult today to envision, it’s predicted that gas and diesel engines will be going by the wayside. Decisions of where factories of the future will be located are being made now. We must not pass on this opportunity. James Dignan, president and CEO of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber, says such a development could bring other leaders in the future of automotive manufacturing to our region with such a rich history in automaking. This time these leaders could help make our Mahoning Valley a new EV engineering hub. General Motors with its battery-cell factory, Lordstown Motors Company with a plan to build electric pickup trucks and Hyperion Motors with a plan to develop cars fueled by hydrogen power cells and looking to bring technology related to energy creation, storage and propulsion to the Valley, are offering the Valley a chance to be at the forefront of this revolution.

These new opportunities represent a new chance for our region.

Why would we ever pass that up?

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