GM cuts, Allegiant departure top news

Tribune Chronicle / R. MIchael Semple An Allegiant Air passenger jet sits off the taxi way Tuesday afternoon at the Youngstown-Warrren Regional Airport.

WARREN — In 2017, the Mahoning Valley watched new developments take shape and history tumble to the ground. Job cuts, leadership changes and new ownerships also garnered attention.

The year can be characterized as one of starts and stops, buildups and tear-downs.

Early on, workers at the General Motors Assembly Complex in Lordstown braced themselves for the Jan. 23 elimination of the plant’s third shift that cut nearly 1,000 jobs. Later, Allegiant Air announced its departure from the Mahoning Valley.

A new ALDI store moved into Bazetta and a Rally’s restaurant went up in Warren. Finally, the iconic blast furnace that for nearly 100 years stood tall over the city’s southwest side fell from skyline.

Here is a rundown of some of the top business stories that made headlines this year:

GM cuts Lordstown’s 3rd shift

At the start of 2016, workers at the local GM plant were looking forward to the launch of the Cruze’s second generation. But just a year later, and facing a continued market shift from small cars to larger vehicles, the Detroit automaker cut Lordstown’s third shift Jan. 23, eliminating nearly 1,000 jobs. By February, GM sent word several weeks of downtime had been added to Lordstown’s production schedule to align it with market demand and reduce inventory. Still processing the impact of the Cruze’s lackluster sales — the small car marked its second worst month for sales in November — and adjusting to a smaller workforce, employees were told the plant’s two unions, United Auto Workers locals 1714 and 1112, would merge with the former being absorbed into the latter sometime in February. Local 1714, established 47 years ago, represents Lordstown’s fabrication workers, while Local 1112, established in 1966 shortly after GM launched operations in Lordstown, represents assembly plant workers.

Allegiant announces final departure

In August, Allegiant Air, after more than 10 years of offering regular discount leisure flights at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, confirmed its plans to end service here Jan. 4. That word came a year to the day after Aerodynamics Inc., known as ADI, stopped its Great Lakes JetExpress flights from Youngstown to Chicago — a matter that is playing out in federal court as the Western Reserve Port Authority, which runs the local airport, sued the airline, which then countersued.

A mediation effort failed and a final pretrial conference in the case has been set for 1:30 p.m. July 16, with the trial set to start Aug. 6 at the U.S. Courthouse in Youngstown.

For the past several months, local airport officials have been in discussions with other carriers in an effort to provide alternative service and replace both airlines. Earlier this month, the port authority renewed its contract with consulting agency Volaire Aviation – agreeing to pay the firm $3,500 per month – in a move airport leaders said is helping to put them on the right track to land new service.

Iconic blast furnace falls

October’s quiet fall of the blast furnace at the former RG Steel mill in Warren punctuated the official end of integrated steelmaking in the Mahoning Valley.

About 1,200 workers lost their jobs when the mill was permanently idled in May 2012. Although tens of thousands of employees passed through the century-old mill that for decades contributed to the economic stability of the region, only about a dozen people were present to watch the blast furnace, known as Trumbull Cliffs, come down.

BDM Warren Steel Holdings, which owns the property, had not made public its plans to raze the blast furnace. BDM purchased the site for $17 million in September 2012 after RG Steel, the former owner and the nation’s fourth-largest steel producer at the time, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier that year. Charles J. Betters of C.J. Betters Enterprises, BDM head, had said he would not operate the mill himself because his background was not in manufacturing but in real estate, demolition and selling steel industry waste used in highway and construction projects.

In September 2016, BDM and officials from Howland, Warren Township and Warren formed a Joint Economic Development District that calls for the communities to work as one unit when zoning the property, deciding tax questions and addressing other concerns potential property owners or business leaders might have about the site. An extensive cleanup effort at the site is ongoing, officials said.

Developer: ‘Twin’ facilities to give energy boost

With the Lordstown Energy Center already under construction along Henn Parkway, Clean Energy Future in January announced plans for a second, 940-megawatt natural gas-fired, combined-cycle generation facility.

In October, the Ohio Power Siting Board gave the Boston-based developer the OK to proceed with its plans to build the Trumbull Energy Center in Lordstown next to the LEC. Developer Bill Siderewicz has described the two projects as “twin” facilities, with each designed to do the same job, put out the same amount of energy and meet the needs of some 850,000 Ohio homes.

Each project is projected to have a lifetime, or 40-plus year, positive impact on the Valley and Ohio, measured around $14 billion, for a combined total of about $28 billion, Siderewicz has said. Additionally, each construction project calls for hundreds of workers — who could be starting the second project as they are finishing the first one — to complete it. Clean Energy Future-Trumbull is looking to start building the TEC in November and operating it by June 2020. Financing for the second plant is expected to be finalized within the next several weeks.

Area hospitals under new ownership

In February, Community Health Systems Inc. announced it sold ValleyCare Health System of Ohio, which included Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren, Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland and Northside Medical Center in Youngstown, to Steward Health Care LLC of Boston. Sharon Regional Health System in Sharon, Pa. was also included.

Along with the new owner came name changes for three of the four facilities: Trumbull Regional Medical Center; Northside Regional Medical Center; and Sharon Regional Medical Center. Steward leaders said they have already increased their local workforce and are implementing technology that will allow them to provide enhanced services to the community. Not long after the acquisition the company named Ron Bierman the new CEO at Trumbull, replacing John Walsh, who had served in that post since 2013.

Franklin, Tenn.-based CHS acquired the local hospitals when it bought Forum Health out of bankruptcy Oct. 1, 2010.

Longtime chamber leader steps down

In March, longtime leader of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, Tom Humphries, announced his retirement, effective today, after serving as the organization’s president / CEO for more than 20 years. But he isn’t going far. Humphries has agreed to continue at the chamber at least one day per week. James Dignan, former commander of the 910th Airlift Wing at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna, was named to replace Humphries. Dignan began transitioning into the president / CEO position in June as the chamber’s chief operating office and is expected to step into his new role this week.

Leaders pitch Valley to Amazon

Area business leaders and elected officials said they knew it was a long shot. Still, they believed it was worth the effort to back the regional chamber’s move to pitch a Valley property to Amazon for the internet-based retailer’s second headquarters.

After considering 14 properties in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, a team that included commissioners from Trumbull and Mahoning counties and Warren and Youngstown officials, chose the 105 acres that make up Enterprise Park at Eastwood as the local space best suited for the Amazon project. To sweeten the pot, the Cafaro Co., which owns the Howland site, offered to sell the plot to Amazon for $1 and give the corporate giant $20 million in seed money to develop its second headquarters on the greenfield acres next to the Eastwood Mall Complex that Cafaro also owns.

The chamber’s proposal went to economic development organization Team NEO and JobsOhio, which coordinated submissions from across Ohio to the company. Chamber leaders later announced they, along with local elected officials, were standing behind a proposal for Cleveland to be the home of Amazon’s second headquarters because although the Enterprise property fits Amazon’s requirements, the Mahoning Valley does not meet the retailer’s criteria. Amazon said it plans to announce its chosen location next year.

Toyota builds new home

Toyota Volvo of Warren opened its new 27,000-square-foot building in September. The new, multimillion dollar facility at 2657 Niles Cortland Road SE, which straddles Niles and Howland, features a 5,000-square-foot showroom that is nearly four times larger than the one at the dealership’s former location at 3810 Youngstown Road SE. It also has a car wash on site so vehicles can be cleaned after they’re serviced, updated technology and plenty of customer parking. The dealership celebrated with a ribbon cutting and grand opening in November.

The project was made possible through an annexation by Howland that allowed two parcels in the township to become part of Niles. In the deal, Howland retains property taxes for the land and provides police and fire services, while Niles controls the zoning. The city also receives the revenue from 2 percent income generated from the dealership’s 40 employees. Those tax revenues previously went to Warren. Because the new facility maintained a Warren mailing address a name change wasn’t necessary. Plans are for the dealership’s former Warren location to be converted into a used car lot.

EGCC closes

Warren campus

Eastern Gateway Community College left its 239 Main Ave. SW, Warren, site — still commonly referred to as the former Mickey’s Army-Navy Store — in May. Citing problems with the building, including a leaking roof and flooding in the basement, college leaders initially said they were looking for a new location in Warren or nearby in Trumbull County. However, they later announced plans to focus on expanding the college’s Youngstown campus and gave Warren students the option to transfer there. The Steubenville-based institution, which expanded into Warren about seven years ago, moved its Warren campus from the Atrium Building downtown to the Main Avenue site in January 2015.

Mike Perik, CEO of Higher Education Partners, or HEP, of Rhode Island, the company hired to manage the property for owner STORE Master Funding VI LLC of Scottsdale, Ariz., said the site is being repaired and plans are to market it as a retail spot for sale or lease.

Marvin continues downtown development

Earlier this month, Mark Marvin’s Downtown Development Group LLC purchased the Robins Theatre building with plans to turn the decades-dormant venue into an entertainment hub. Plans are for the site to be managed by Sunrise Entertainment.

The building joins a long list of properties Marvin, a Warren native, has purchased in recent years in what he has said is an ongoing effort to revitalize the city — specifically the downtown area. Marvin, who has invested more than $4 million in the city so far, formed Downtown Development in 2015. The group purchased the Mahoning Building at 197 W. Market St., properties at 193 and 187 W. Market St., which neighbor the Mahoning Building, 124 N. Park Ave., the Atrium Building at 103 W. Market St. and several lots behind the structure. Part of the renovation work has been converting some of the space into upscale or luxury apartments and office and retail space.