The day Youngstown’s steel mills began shutting down 40 years ago remains fresh in the minds of those who live in the blue-collar corner of Ohio. Community leaders don’t want the recent closing of General Motors’ massive assembly plant to leave that same lingering gloom. The region is embarking on an ambitious plan to become a research and production hub for electric vehicles and carve out a new economy for itself by mixing its industrial past with emerging technology. There are positive signs already. GM in early December announced it will form a joint venture and hire more than 1,100 people at a new plant that it says will be among the largest electric vehicle battery cell factories in the world. And the Lordstown assembly plant that GM shut down in March has been sold to a newly formed company that intends to begin making electric trucks by late 2020. But the Youngstown region, which for decades has been a symbol of the American Midwest’s declining industrial might, faces plenty of competition from places like Detroit, Silicon Valley and China — all of which also are positioning to be centers for electric and autonomous vehicles.While the electric transformation within the auto industry is just beginning to take shape, it’s clear that fewer workers and factories will be needed to make cars that require fewer parts. Where those next clusters of electric vehicle manufacturing will sprout is yet to be determined.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat who represents the Youngstown area, thinks being involved with the development of electric vehicles early on is the best chance his hometown has had in decades to restore what has been lost.
Economic development leaders point out that the Youngstown area already is home to a electric battery testing lab and business incubators that are focused on energy and additive manufacturing through 3-D printing. Youngstown State University is breaking ground on an advanced manufacturing technology center and wants to play a part in training students to work in the electric vehicle industry.