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How the GM Lordstown closure affected water rates, supporting industries

The closure of General Motors' Lordstown Assembly Complex affects more than the 1,600 workers who lost their jobs or followed work elsewhere.

LORDSTOWN — The loss of General Motors’ Lordstown Assembly Complex and about 1,607 local jobs there was estimated to end another 1,256 private sector jobs, according to a Cleveland State University study released March 7, the day after the plant was idled.

“GM was the backbone of this community. Lordstown was the backbone of this community,” 27-year-old Jesse Silva told Mahoning Matters Thursday while on the UAW picket line.

“If you drive down the road and you see the ‘for sale’ signs on stuff it’s because [GM Lordstown] is closed. That’s it.”

Two auto suppliers that counted GM Lordstown among their largest (or only) customers — Magna’s Lordstown Seating Systems and Austintown’s Source Providers Inc. — lost more than 700 total jobs since GM began paring down its Lordstown workforce in 2016.

Falcon Transport Co. also laid off 162 employees between its three locations in Mahoning and Lorain counties, when it suddenly closed April 27, notifying workers via text message. The company cited "unforeseen business circumstances" such as the loss of its largest customer, presumed to be GM Lordstown.

Behind the auto parts manufacturing and wholesale trade industries, which is estimated to lose a combined $556 million in output and 415 jobs due to the plant’s closure, according to the CSU study, the local food service industry is also projected to lose about $4.1 million in output and 67 jobs.

One of the landmarks affected by the loss of GM Lordstown's workforce was Nese’s Country Cafe along Salt Springs Road. The cafe, just minutes away from the Lordstown complex, was a popular social spot for GM workers. The restaurant also became a well-traveled backdrop for visiting journalists documentsing the plant's closure in the months after the GM announcement last November until the last Cruze was built this past March. It closed July 28 and its equipment and wares are set for auction this week.

“It’s sad to see a lot of people having to uproot and move,” cafe server Lisa Miller told The Vindicator on the plant’s final workday. “Lordstown doesn’t have anything to bring people in anymore, so if you don’t work here, or you don’t live here, you’re probably not coming here. There’s not a lot of traffic.”

The cafe’s co-owner Thomas Gilmartin on Saturday didn’t want to speak with Mahoning Matters about the cafe’s closure, other than to say he was “sorry to see it go.”

“I just want to thank all the customers for their support during this very difficult time,” reads a post on the cafe’s Facebook page from July 29.

“We love you all and appreciate your business and loyalty. I will miss all of you.”

Former Lordstown worker Casey Waldorf asked about taking a coffee cup as a keepsake.

“I have to unfortunately leave and follow GM to Indiana and I would like to have a little piece of something to remember,” he wrote.

Even GM Lordstown's residential neighbors are impacted -- on their water bills. Once the village’s largest water customer, the GM plant now only utilizes about a tenth of the water it used when the plant was in full swing, putting extra burden on residential customers.

Kevin Campbell, president of the village's Board of Public Affairs, told Mahoning Matters the village sold about $95,500 in water monthly to the plant in 2015. Now that's down to about $11,000 a month, he said.

"No one foresaw" the closure of the plant, which was only 53 years old, he said.

"Of course, our fear is [water usage is] going to zero, which is what we're waiting to see," he said. "We are pursuing some other avenues and trying to pursue other aspects of water sales for Lordstown Village.

In April 2019, the village increased water rates by 9 cents to $5.75 per 1,000 gallons to account for that loss. Each Lordstown water customer now also pays an account maintenance fee. For residential accounts, it's $3 a month, Campbell said.

Campbell said officials adjusted water rates near the start of the year, after GM announced the Lordstown plant would go on "unallocated" status and before the last workday March 6.

"We didn't just want to 'gut reflex' and shoot the rates up like the sky is falling. ... We did the minimum amount [we need] to survive and see how it plays out.

"GM was our most profitable water sales customer that we had. ... We can hopefully get something back," Campbell said, adding the village's incoming TJX HomeGoods distribution center, currently under construction, is a "nice-sized project, but not a lot of water usage."

Justin Dennis

About the Author: Justin Dennis

Justin Dennis has been on the beat since 2011, covering crime, courts and public education. Dennis grew up in Poland and Salem and studied journalism and communications at Cleveland State University and University of Pittsburgh.
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