Curb the lack of enthusiasm

With the impending General Electrict Ohio Lamp Plant closing in Warren, and the grim scenes of an RG Steel auction this week fresh on everybody’s minds, it’s important to remember just how far the Mahoning Valley must climb to regain some semblance of its industrial heyday.

Those who are exuberant over the promising shale boom often express frustration over the number of local natives who are not buying into the optimism. Those giddy over the potential economic benefits from unlocking oil and gas from the Utica Shale are always quick to point out its potential to alter socio-economics worldwide and, thus, its potential to be bigger than steel for Warren and Youngstown.

On the other hand, sobering statistical data provided by a local banker explain why so many people might be containing their enthusiasm.

Let’s go back to the GE lamp plant closing that would end the company’s presence in the Valley. In the 1970s, GE operated factories in Youngstown, Austintown, Niles and Warren, employing about 4,000 workers. If GE still had that work force, based on current wages and benefits, it would have a $208 million local payroll.

That doesn’t even count the local products and services the plants would purchase locally, the taxes it would pay or the health care it would pump into the local medical community.

Keep in mind that the light bulb industry, though large in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, ranked far behind the steel and auto industries which have also unraveled. The banker who provided the statistical analysis estimates that the Valley lost 150,000 jobs over the past 40 years.

Even the most optimistic shale outlook doesn’t come close to restoring that much. Which is why it’s so important for local leaders to focus daily on rebuilding the Valley’s job base.

We don’t have to restore the 150,000 jobs. We can successfully re-industrialize and resize. We should take comfort in the good news, such as the Inc. magazine story that the Tribune Chronicle editorialized on last week.

But we can also understand how, even without knowing the statistical data, many of those who have survived the last few decades are now conditioned to maintain a more jaded outlook on the local economy.