Portman stops by GM plant

LORDSTOWN – U.S. Sen. Rob Portman on Friday called the work that has been going on often six days a week inside the General Motors Corp. Lordstown Complex “a fantastic story of success.”

The Republican senator from Cincinnati who serves as co-chair of the Senate Auto Caucus was speaking inside the lobby of the complex’s stamping plant shortly after completing what was his first tour of the facility.

Portman said two issues he knows the auto caucus needs to focus on includes maintaining fair trade for domestic automakers and keeping energy affordable for Ohio industries. The bipartisan caucus, co-chaired by Portman and Carl Levin, D-Mich., works to improve domestic auto industry issues like work force development, regulatory issues, safety, technology and fuel efficiency.

Domestic energy, particularly that produced in Ohio through coal, natural gas and nuclear power, help plants like the one in Lordstown operate efficiently.

Portman said he disagrees with complicated mandates proposed by the Obama administration to reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly in coming years, but in doing so would drive up the cost of energy production. The U.S. Environmental protection agency has estimated Obama’s plan would lead to more than 6 percent increases in utility costs by 2020 to fund investments needed to comply.

Critics have argued that increasing manufacturers’ electricity costs will lead to increased off-shore production.

“We are seeing 15 Ohio coal-fired plants already scheduled to shut down by the end of next year,” Portman said.

Using the recent harsh winter as an example, Portman said all Ohio’s plants are needed to maintain the current level of energy production.

“This plant here, they need to know they are going to have a stable energy supply going forward relatively inexpensively,” Portman said.

Calling the Lordstown facility “one of the most efficient plants in the world,” Portman said he also is doing what he can to keep competition fair for the plant’s products. That includes focusing his attention on fair trade, particularly when other countries manipulate their currency, he said.

Portman also addressed the need for training new workers for the manufacturing sector.

Among those accompanying Portman on the tour was Youngstown-Warren Regional President and CEO Tom Humphries, who has expressed concern with the need for trained, skilled workers for the manufacturing sector.

Portman said he spent time talking to Humphries on the topic, and shares his concern about the need for a trained young work force. About 45 percent of the workers in the Lordstown plant have reached the 30-year retirement eligibility age, he said.

“They are not retiring because it’s a great job and they are building a great product, but we have got to be able to get more young people into the skills,” Portman said. “It’s a great job. I have been promoting legislation to encourage young people to look at skills training.”

When asked if he planned to run for president, a topic that’s been under debate by political analysts, Portman said he planned to run again for Senate, but stopped short of ruling out a run for the presidency.

“I am going to look and see who’s running,” he said.