Farms to Fast Lane: Community rallies around Lordstown plant

In the mid-1990s, General Motors almost walked away from the Valley

Former Lordstown plant Manager Herman Maass talked about General Motors almost leaving the Valley and how the community rallied to save the Lordstown Complex.
Former Lordstown plant Manager Herman Maass talked about General Motors almost leaving the Valley and how the community rallied to save the Lordstown Complex.

LORDSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The effect that General Motors Lordstown Complex has on the region is far reaching.

According to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, more than 16,000 jobs are indirectly related to Lordstown. Added to the more than 4,500 workers at the plant, it leads to nearly $688 million in payroll each year.

That kind of money makes GM a major economic engine in the region, but in the mid-1990s, the company almost walked away from the Valley. That is, until the union, management and the community rallied together to turn it around.

Former Lordstown plant Manager Herman Maass is retired now, living near Nashville, Tennessee. Maass called his time in the Valley the most fulfilling in his long career with General Motors.

About one year into his tenure here,  Maass received a phone call he said he will never forget.

“He says, ‘Well, I just came out of a future product meeting, and they have decided that they’re not going to put a new product in Lordstown,'” he said.

General Motors leaders said they were losing money building the Chevy Cavalier.

“It was costing us more to build the Cavaliers in Lordstown that it was to build Cadillacs up in the [Detroit-]Hamtramck Plant,” Maass said.

The plan was set to shut down Lordstown after the 2000 model year.

Maass said he took the bad news to UAW 1112 President Al Alli.

“He said, ‘What can we do? Can we turn it around?’ I said, ‘All you can do is make the cost improvements, improve the production, get the quality up and let the corporation decide,'” Maass recalled.

The two sides started working together to lower costs at the plant, which meant eliminating positions. Because the Lordstown plant was 30 years old, they were able to do that through retirements.

The changes helped turn the corner.

“Our quality started to climb the charts, and our cost per car in comparison to other U.S. plants was becoming very competitive,” Maass said.

The changes here caught the eye of UAW union leaders.

“They made some changes that the international looked at it and said, ‘What the heck are you doing?’ And those guys said that we have to keep this plant,” said Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber President and CEO Tom Humphries.

Along with the changes inside the plant, a public campaign was launched called “Bring it Home.”

“We felt that we really needed to get the people to understand how important that facility was to this community. The thousands of jobs that come off of it and the revenues that come into it,” Humphries said.

The hard work by union members, local management, along with community support paid off, and Lordstown was awarded the next generation small car — the Chevrolet Cobalt.

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