Pump brakes on Lordstown news

Without a doubt, we all would have rather heard news last week that General Motors is reallocating a vehicle to the Lordstown plant and that it would be operating again soon.

That, of course, was not the case, and instead it became abundantly clear that GM is not contemplating reopening the massive 6.2-million-square-foot facility.

In a telephone conversation with President Donald Trump, GM CEO Mary Barra reported that the automaker instead is in serious talks to sell the facility to Workhorse, a Cincinnati-based electric vehicle startup company that would manufacture electric pickup trucks or vans here.

The news of a pending sale received mixed emotions.

While Trump sent gleeful tweets about the impending deal, the news was greeted gloomily by United Auto Workers leaders who have not given up hope that GM would reopen the factory that stopped producing the Chevrolet Cruze compact car in March.

“I guess that means they’re done in Lordstown,” said Tim O’Hara, vice president of the United Auto Workers Local 1112. “Anybody that wants to continue working for them is going to have to transfer out.”

UAW Vice President Terry Dittes responded with a short and direct statement.

“The UAW’s position is unequivocal: General Motors should assign a product to the Lordstown facility and continue operating it. …”

The union, which is embroiled in a federal lawsuit challenging the idling of plants in Lordstown, Baltimore and Warren, Mich., as violations of the existing labor contract, had little choice in taking this stand.

Other elected leaders, however, are approaching the potential sale cautiously, and that is the approach we all should be taking.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, perhaps said it best.

“As far as Lordstown, this is probably not yet the day to celebrate,” DeWine said. “This is a day where we’re maybe moving forward. We’re certainly not going to sit around and not try to make things happen.”

We agree.

It’s simply too early to pass judgment on the factory’s potential sale to this little-known company, and it’s important that no one dismiss the opportunities that might come with it just yet.

It was only about six months ago, shortly after we received the devastating news of the plant’s impending idling, that we used this space to promote the importance of a positive attitude, urging GM, if it was not going to use the plant, to market it swiftly to someone who would.

Of course, no one wants to give up on GM’s local future yet, we said then, but given the current situation, we have little choice but to start plotting the very real possibility of a future without GM.

Either way, the location and amenities make the Lordstown plant very marketable.

The facility, centrally located between Chicago and New York, has easy access to the Ohio Turnpike and several other major interstates, as well as rail service. The sprawling facility has operated for years as a complete auto-making facility, including a metal stamping plant, a paint shop and an assembly plant.

And it comes with a ready-made workforce and nearby supplier support.

Perhaps it’s those benefits that are making the plant so appealing to this potential buyer.

Many questions exist today about Workhorse and its spinoff company that apparently are in the running for a massive contract to build $6.5 billion worth of new electric vehicles for the U.S. Postal Service.

Yes, it will be a monumental disappointment if we learn the Lordstown plant is no longer part of GM’s large scale plan, but it’s not the first time we have faced economic and manufacturing adversity.

Lordstown’s plant had about 1,400 hourly workers on one shift at the time the plant stopped production. But hundreds of others already had been laid off earlier when GM cut two shifts.

Today, only a skeleton crew remains on duty at the plant scrapping old parts.

No matter what happens with General Motors, we should remain cautiously optimistic about the possibility of electric vehicle manufacturing in Lordstown. You might have read the Associated Press we stripped atop our front page Sunday edition. If not, read it.

But if that doesn’t work out, we also must not lose sight of those many very desirable offerings that exist here, making the property highly desirable to other manufacturers.