America loves a good comeback story--the kind fueled by the roll-up-your-sleeves and grit-your-teeth spirit that represents the best of American mettle and resolve. That kind of story is happening right off the Ohio Turnpike.
Three years ago, GM and America’s domestic auto industry were down to their last breaths. At GM’s Lordstown, Ohio plant, production had fallen to just a trickle as demand for new cars evaporated with the global economic recession. One shift of workers was probably more than was even needed.
Visit Lordstown now and you’ll find 4,500 employees in three shifts at a plant that has seen $350 million in new investments.
Management and workers have put aside past disagreements to achieve impressive gains in productivity and quality—and the efforts are paying off. Last year, US Cruze sales totaled nearly a quarter million and helped Chevrolet claim the number-one spot for passenger car sales in the nation.
At a time when growth in Ohio and the U.S. hinges on creating jobs and seeing businesses return to profitability, Lordstown is a model for how the auto industry—and manufacturing in general—can help lead Ohio and America back to economic and competitive strength.
So, what has helped drive this remarkable comeback? Stability, focus and people.
Over the past 12 months Ohio has begun recreating a stable environment for job creators. Eliminating Ohio’s $8 billion state budget deficit without a tax increase—while actually cutting taxes $300 million—assured businesses that state government wouldn’t try to fix its problems by hiking taxes. Armed with that certainty, businesses could begin thinking about growing and hiring again.
Keeping government spending and costs under control helps keep taxes low which lets businesses have more money for growth and hiring.
For the new GM and the US auto industry, refocusing on our core missions—building great cars—helped us get into fighting trim. Restructuring, signing new, competitive labor agreements, and shedding legacy costs have recreated an American auto industry that is globally competitive. When companies, as well as governments, focus tightly on those things that are essential to their success, they create efficiencies that can translate into better products and services.
As a result, Ohio, GM and the auto industry’s comeback has helped drive GM’s auto assembly plant employment from 13,000 to more than 20,000 over the past three years, and has helped reconfirm Ohio as a leader in auto and parts production. GM alone, in addition to its Lordstown investment, has invested $336 million in transmission and engine casting plants in Ohio.
These investments would never have been made without Ohio’s skilled workforce. Creating the next generation of manufacturing workers must be a priority for Ohio and other manufacturing states if manufacturers are to succeed. Ohio is in the process of rebuilding workforce training to better reflect the future needs of businesses so that the skills in which Ohioans will be trained align with the job opportunities that actually exist.
Just as manufacturers must guard against complacency, America cannot take its manufacturing sector for granted again.
Comeback stories are great, and the ones going on in Ohio and the auto industry are inspiring, but it’s almost better if they didn’t need to occur to begin with. A continued commitment to efficiency, focusing on priorities and making sure people have the skills to succeed will help keep states, America and manufacturers on track.
The past several years have been a living case study in the value of this approach—an approach that reasserts the primacy of citizens and customers, so that meaningful, good-paying jobs are created and businesses and economies can flourish. Thankfully, Ohio and GM have embraced this formula for success.
John Kasich is governor of Ohio and Dan Akerson is chairman and CEO of General Motors Company.