In Rust Belt, Battery Plants Spark Jobs

February 6, 2022

UPDATE: Overhearing today that our local battery manufacturing facility can’t find enough workers, straining to keep up with demand.

Bridge:

LORDSTOWN, Ohio — Quitting time once again means something in this factory town, where a parade of pickups and SUVs heads toward the turnpike every day just after 4 p.m.

Some join the roaring semis heading west toward greater Cleveland and beyond. Most aim southeast toward Youngstown, the biggest city between the industrial landscape and the former steel hubs about 20 minutes away in western Pennsylvania.

The rest seem to jam into the parking lot of Earl Ross’ bar.

On a snowy Thursday afternoon, Ross is ready for them with cans of Busch Light in the cooler and the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the speakers. It doesn’t take long for Ross’ Eatery & Pub to fill with men in camouflage caps who are still wearing work safety vests.

In this village of 3,300 where General Motors Corp. employed as many as 8,000 before it closed a plant in 2019, Ross’ business is once again thriving: The busy after-work crowd follows lunch rush, and that comes after a morning filled with prepping the day’s food, catering breakfast for 500 people and filling pizza boxes for delivery at lunch.

The devastation of GM closing its Lordstown assembly plant, followed by the pandemic, seems distant when the bar runs out of seats on weekday afternoons. Ross, owner of the only bar for miles, knows exactly how his new customers find him.

“The only reason they’re in Lordstown, Ohio, is because of work,” Ross said. 

For almost two-thirds of Ross’ new regulars, that work is at the new Ultium Cellselectric vehicle battery factory that will open in August. 

The factory will be the first in the United States for General Motors and LG Energy Solution under the Ultium Cells partnership. Two more are planned: Next is in Spring Hill, Tennessee, once home to Saturn, while the third will be in Lansing, the company announced in late January.

Lordstown could offer a glimpse into Michigan’s future, as automakers spend billions in their race to convert production to zero-emission vehicles. Giant battery factories are vital to that transition, and Michigan and other states are vying for them with tax breaks and other incentives not just for their jobs, but because of spinoff businesses to supply them.

Michigan offered incentives worth about $524 million for the Lansing plant, which is expected to employ 1,700 people within five years of its opening in 2025, compared to 1,200 eventually in Ohio after the Lordstown plant opens this summer.

Traditional auto production generates some of the highest economic impact possible: for every 100 manufacturing jobs, more than 700 can be created, according to the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute. The spinoff won’t be as great for electric vehicles, which require fewer suppliers, said Albert Sumell, an economics professor at Youngstown State University. However, he added, it’s still boosting the economy. 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in announcing the Ultium factory in Lansingalong with EV expansion in GM’s Lake Orion factory north of Detroit, called the projects “transformational.”

She and other state officials say they are important to retaining the auto industry’s estimated $225 billion value to the state, along with about 291,000 jobs, 4,200 of whom are GM workers in Lansing.

Lordstown’s Ultium Cells plant is two years ahead of Lansing, and the village dominated by farm fields and factories is reaping benefits that go far beyond the after-work bar spending among the 1,600 workers who are building the factory.

The 2.8 million-square-foot battery plant is reinvigorating industrial development, sending land prices higher for related businesses and attracting millions in investment from others, like warehouses and utilities. 

The influx of commuting workers — nearly 2,000 aside from Ultium Cells — may spur residential growth. And regional officials see potential to attract still more mobility jobs.

The stakes are high for Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. Like officials in Michigan, he’s trying to cement his region’s place in the future of the auto industry.

Holland Sentinel (Michigan):

HOLLAND — West Michigan has won a significant manufacturing expansion, assuming the plan is approved by Holland City Council.

According to city documents, council will schedule a public hearing next week for a proposed expansion of LG Energy Solutions off 146th Avenue. The development would create 1,000 skilled, well-paying jobs by 2025, spread over 1 million square feet and $1.5 billion of investment.

Because the facility would use a significant amount of the Holland Board of Public Works’ existing electric capacity, HPBW plans to construct a $10 million substation nearby.

Holland City Council will first consider creating a Renaissance Zone for the project. If approved by the city and the state, no non-debt local property taxes would be paid until the last three years of the 12-year term, at which time, taxes would be phased back at 25 percent increments. The existing facility was approved for a Renaissance Zone in 2010, and will return to the tax roll completely in 2026.

In addition to the Renaissance Zone, the state would offer a package of incentives totaling $525 million and a Workforce Housing Loan Program worth $10 million, administered by the state and used specifically in the Holland region to support affordable housing. The housing fund was mentioned in a tweet from Mayor Nathan Bocks on Saturday.

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