WARREN, Ohio — Leaders of the Democratic parties in Mahoning and Trumbull counties and union members at General Motors’ Lordstown Complex summoned reporters Thursday to point out how federal support of the automaker helped to preserve the company’s Lordstown plant and led to the success of the Chevrolet Cruze built there — and to again drive home the point that Mitt Romney opposed that intervention.
The press event, held at Diane Sauer Chevrolet, was intended to coincide with the conclusion of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, said David Betras, chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic party.
It also came on the day that GM regained its crown as the world’s largest automaker, with 9 million vehicles sold around the globe in 2011, and announced that the Cruze has become the best-selling Chevrolet nameplate around the world with more than 1.13 million sold since 2009.
Supported by President Barack Obama, the auto industry loans, from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, “saved” the Lordstown plant, Betras remarked. In addition to preserving the jobs at the plant and adding new ones when production went to three shifts, Betras noted that Sauer is selling Cruzes and seeing increased foot traffic at her dealership. “There is not one business” in the Mahoning Valley that isn’t affected, he said.
In contrast, the party chairman said, “Mitt Romney has said on the record he would have let GM go down, that it was the wrong use of [Troubled Asset Relief Program] money to make a loan to the auto industry,” he said.
Romney notably opposed assistance to the auto industry in November 2008 when he wrote a column for The New York Times titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
As a General Motors dealer, the loan to the automaker “obviously helped me out,” Sauer said. Even ignoring that factor, however, “everybody in Trumbull County” depends on the jobs at the Lordstown plant, she said.
“Obviously the Cruze is a big shot in the arm to our area,” commented Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka, chairman of the Trumbull County Democratic party. He also announced at the event that Trumbull County would soon be buying or leasing its first Cruze “to replace some Impalas that are gas guzzlers,” he added.
“Whether you think the loans were the right ting or the wrong thing, the fact is that they worked,” said David Green, president of UAW Local 1714. “That’s the important thing for people to understand.”
What Romney doesn’t understand is that every autoworker job supports seven to 10 jobs outside the auto industry, said Jim Graham, president of Lordstown UAW Local 1112. “We’ve got about 5,000 people out at Lordstown. Do the math and you come up with a number that would have been affected” had GM gone out of business, he said. The former Massachusetts governor also doesn’t understand the damage to the auto supplier network overall that a GM collapse would have triggered, Graham said.
Betras noted that 12.4% of the state’s workforce is supported by the auto industry, and more than 80,000 Ohioans are employed directly by parts manufactures.
Ford’s CEO, Alan Mulally, said a collapse of the supplier network would have affected Ford’s viability as well, Betras pointed out.
Production is good at the plant, Graham reported, and there is a 61-day supply in the field, “which is phenomenal for this time of year,” typically a slow time for auto sales. “The cars are still selling and its going to continue to sell,” he predicted.
If Romney is the GOP presidential nominee, Mahoning Valley voters will be reminded that he “would have let the Lordstown plant get knocked to the ground” and his time at Bain Capital, which recently has become a thorny issue for Romney, will be discussed as well, the union leader said.
Copyright 2011 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.