Sen. Portman talks jobs at plant

COLUMBIANA – Years ago, the plan was to tear down the Columbiana Pump Company.

Today, plant co-owner Paul Rance said it employs 61 people and could use a few more.

On Monday morning, he had one substitute for a few moments in the person of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) who climbed the steps to the cradle deck, manned the controls and poured iron into a mold.

Portman toured the facility along with Columbiana County Commissioner Mike Halleck who arranged his visit and spoke with about 15 employees afterward.

Portman, who isn’t up for re-election until 2016, was pushing the Senate Republican “Jobs for America” platform and touched on a number of issues including Congress’ inability to get things done, the Keystone Pipeline, the minimum wage and the oil and gas activity in the state.

Portman said Ohio already has a higher minimum wage indexed to inflation while noting the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said increasing the minimum wage would cost jobs.

He doubted the 6.7 percent national unemployment number saying the “real” number is 10 to 10.5 percent when considering people who are what Portman called “checked out” or off the unemployment rolls and have stopped looking for work.

“I want everyone focused on jobs and for people to make more money,” he told a group of employees after the tour while adding that for 10 years he has focused on helping ex-cons get a second chance.

“People say, ‘that’s not a Republican thing’ but it is a Republican thing … I’m for jobs.

“The biggest problem is young men checked out altogether … checked out – unemployed. We have to figure out how to get these people back in the workforce … particularly these guys.”

Halleck wondered why anyone would be against the Keystone Pipeline and Portman said it affects Canada, Mexico and the Bakken Shale Formation oil resources and no pipeline means transport by rail and truck.

“They’re putting it in trucks,” he said.

That has industry experts concerned with increased safety problems as about three-quarters of North Dakota’s oil is now transported by rail.

Portman said it is “stupid” not to build the pipeline and expected the shale gas and oil boom to help America break from foreign oil.

One employee noted most of it is being shipped to the Gulf of Mexico and then overseas and Portman said it will eventually be distributed here with refineries planned in North Dakota.

That state is the centerpiece of the Bakken Shale Formation and three refineries are planned.

While meeting with company officials before the tour, Portman asked if the company had any problems with the EPA.

Plant manager Corey Bowker said, “they’ve been great to work with” even saying they’ve been “phenomenal.”