LORDSTOWN, Ohio -- Turnpike Exit 216 is still marked by large signs that read, “Lordstown Home of the Cruze.” This is where, for decades, General Motors manufactured a series of vehicles, including its popular Chevy Cruze.
Now, the 6.2 million-square-foot General Motor plant sits idle. Lots once filled with workers and inventory are now vacant. Small signs lining the fences read, “Save Our Plant.”
GM closed the Lordstown General Motor plant last week as part of a major company overhaul that will focus on making trucks, SUVs and electric and autonomous vehicles. The Cruze will be discontinued in North America.
The close-knit community has already felt the impact.
“It’s been very slow today,” said Lisa Miller, a server at Nese’s Country Café.
Nese’s, which is a couple of miles from the plant, is usually packed with workers on their lunch break. But, lately, the crowd has been sparse. During a recent lunchtime visit, only one table was seated during the noon hour.
“It’s really a sad situation,” Miller said. “I’ve had to say goodbye to a lot of customers who have transferred, or will relocate for work.”
For 52 years, families in the small Ohio town lived and breathed cars. Now, the town of 32,000 residents is uncertain about its future. If the plant shuts down for good, hundreds could lose their jobs.
Miller said the end of production at the plant isn’t just bad for business, “it’s a slap in the face,” after taxpayers bailed out car companies a little more than a decade ago. Miller wonders who will help their community.
“Lordstown doesn’t have nothing, it doesn’t even have a grocery store,” said Miller. “So, if you don’t work here, or you don’t live here, you’re probably not coming here.”
Hundreds of workers at the plant now face a painful choice: Take the company's offer to work at another factory — possibly hundreds of miles away — even if that means leaving behind their families, their homes and everything they've built — or stay and risk losing their high-paying jobs.
General Motor’s spokesperson Dan Flores said roughly 400 workers have voluntarily transferred to plants in the Midwest and South. There are still hundreds of others who remain in limbo, either contemplating retirement or hoping that jobs will somehow return to the region. The governor said Wednesday he doubts GM will reopen the plant.
Amanda Weinstein, an economics professor at the University of Akron, said the plant's closure in Lordstown is not only devastating to the region's economy but directly impacts many families as well.
"A lot of times when a plant closes, you will see higher skill workers finding employment a bit faster. However, they too will take a wage hit," said Weinstein, who added the outcome for low skill workers is far less optimistic. "They often won't find a job and will remain unemployed for a very long time which becomes very hard on families."
Weinstein said this type of situation is especially common in rural regions where there is a lack of industry diversity.
"You'll hear about comeback cities like New York, where the textile industry declined but the fashion [industry] was waiting in the wings. Lordstown doesn't have that," Weinstein said.
Kathleen "KC" Watson owns an antique shop in the neighboring town of North Jackson and could tell by her store’s sales whenever jobs were eliminated at the plant. Just two years ago, the plant had 4,500 employees, but that kept shrinking as shifts were cut.
“A lot of families have come in attempting to sell their items in preparation for their moves,” Watson said. "And I have to turn them away because I don't have any more room."
Antiques & Uniques showcases 19 vendors and is open seven days a week. Watson said business has slowed significantly.
“Oh, I can remember when they cut third shift and the second shift, and now this was the worse January I’ve seen in my three years of business,” said Watson.
Watson, a transplant from Colorado, moved to Ohio three years ago after retirement and opened her dream antique shop.
“I’m concerned, but I guess we just have to wait it out,” she said.
Flores said there are no immediate plans to "retool" or reconfigure the plant for another vehicle, but did confirm that the status of the plant will remain “unallocated” until negotiations can be carried out in the fall with union representatives.
“I think we’ll be OK to live out the duration until another company comes in or production restarts," Watson said. "Or, at least we'll try.”