Lordstown GM Plant Is Microcosm Of Trumbull Economic Woes

A worker at the GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio, works on a long line of Chevy Cruze vehicles.
A worker at the GM plant in Lordstown works on the Chevy Cruze [Lisa DeJong / The Plain Dealer / Your Voice Ohio]
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ML Schultze, Your Voice Ohio

The collapse of traditional manufacturing has hit Trumbull County as hard as any place in Ohio.

Drastic cuts at the GM plant in Lordstown have many trying to figure out if the economic pummeling will continue and if there are alternatives.

Manufacturing’s stunning decline is seared into the DNA of Trumbull and Mahoning counties.

It began with Black Monday, the single day in 1977 that cost 5,000 steelworkers their jobs. And an analysis by Your Voice Ohio shows the losses have continued into the 21st century.

Rusty truck sits inside the former Copperweld Steel Company site in Warren, Ohio

The former Copperweld Steel Company site in Warren, Ohio. [Lisa DeJong / Your Voice Ohio]

Since 2000, Trumbull has lost nearly 40 percent of its total payroll — a whopping $1.7 billion. Two-thirds of manufacturing jobs are gone.

So people here are watching warily as the GM plant in Lordstown has dwindled from three shifts to one.

One Family’s Story

For Tommy Wolikow and Rochelle Carlisle, the sprawling complex GM built 50 years ago represented security, which felt worlds removed from the rusted shells of steel mills in Youngstown and Warren.

Carlisle remembers when she was hired in. Sure it meant temporary status for as much as five years. But the close to $20 an hour was nearly twice what she made as a pharmacy tech.

“I thought this is going to be a job where I’m going to be able to put money aside for my daughter’s education, for her first car,” Carlisle recalled. “I’ll be able to live a regular life. I won’t have to struggle to live paycheck to paycheck to paycheck.” 

Wolikow and Carlisle met at the plant, got engaged and bought a split level just two miles away — one with a treed yard, good schools, a safe neighborhood for their blended family of five, including now nine-month-old baby Bella.

It seemed like a good bet.

Tommy Wolikow and Rochelle Carlisle kiss outside their home in Warren

Carlisle and Wolikow outside their home [Lisa DeJong / Your Voice Ohio]

Over the decades, Lordstown had its cutbacks, strikes and shutdowns, but it had come barreling out of the great recession with a new labor contract, a $350 million retooling and the launch of the Chevy Cruze.

So even when 1,500 third-shifters — including Wolikow and Carlise — were laid off in January 2017, they weren’t terribly worried.

“I remember us walking out that last night together,” Wolikow said. “I figured I was going to get called back maybe six months to year at the latest.”

It’s coming up on two years now. In June, the second shift was cut, too.

Plummeting Car Sales and the Economy of a Region

The problem is sales of the Cruze have plummeted. It’s a highly rated, fuel-efficient sedan in a day when consumers, buoyed by low gas prices, want SUVs.

GM hasn’t provided specifics about plans for Lordstown. Spokesman Tom Mock notes that Chevy invested another $200 million to retool Lordstown for the second-generation Cruze, says it remains committed to compact cars, and pledges that Lordstown will continue to operate.

The GM plant just beyond a mobile home community in Lordstown, Ohio

The GM plant sits just beyond a mobile home community in Lordstown, Ohio. [Lisa DeJong / Your Voice Ohio]

But the cuts have cost the village of Lordstown more than a million dollars in taxes, and schools Superintendent Terry Armstrong says Lordstown has lost a piece of its future, too.

“We’ve had families that had to move. You see students who are here their whole lives and they are excelling, but to be able to put food on the table they’re leaving,” said Armstrong.

More Than Job Losses

That continues another troubling trend for Trumbull. Its population is down to about 200,000 — a loss of more than 40,000 since 1980.

Tommy Wolikow and Rochelle Carlisle are not leaving. They love the community, and have an extended and engaged family and aging parents and..

“He would have to leave his daughter,” Carlisle said. “I would have to take my daughter from her father, who she sees on a weekly basis. And I take care of my mother, who’s sickly. I do all of her shopping, I pay all of her bills. I take her to all of her appointments wherever she needs to go.” 

Rochelle Carlisle and her nine-month-old daughter

Rochelle Carlisle with her nine-month-old daughter [Lisa DeJong / Your Voice Ohio]

Tim Francisco, head of Youngstown State University’s Center for Working-Class Studies, says family connectedness is a core value of communities like Trumbull.

“They’re rooted to a kind of place that isn’t just sentimentality,” said Francisco. “Working-class families rely on one another for social needs, for things like child care. It’s not that easy to just say, ‘Hey, we’re all going to just move away.’”

So Carlisle, Wolikow and others in the community are fighting to keep jobs here.

The Power of the Union, the Voices of One Family

The union held a rally last month, with Good Jobs Nation, to try to pressure GM to move models to Lordstown from overseas and to challenge national trade and tax policy to stop offshoring.

UAW Local 1112 President David Green at his desk

UAW Local 1112 President David Green at his office [ML Schultze / Your Voice Ohio]

Local union President David Green says the concern extends beyond Lordstown.

“Thirty-five percent of the parts that go into our car comes from the state of Ohio. We’ve got lots of small mom-and-pop shops. They make one small plastic piece,” said Green.

Tommy Wolikow packs alongside his nine-month-old daughter

Tommy Wolikow packs to travel to a Trump rally in Minnesota as his nine-month-old daughter sits beside him [Lisa DeJong / Your Voice Ohio]

Wolikow and Carlisle also have taken their case to President Trump. They travelled to rallies in West Virginia and Minnesota to deliver letters to the president’s campaign manager.

But mortgages and credit-card bills won’t wait for big policy changes. So Wolikow used his roughly $15,000 in federal retraining money for diesel mechanics and truck driving. And Carlisle is waiting tables for $4.15 an hour plus tips.

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