Intentions alone don’t bring jobs to the area

Does the name Element Electronics mean anything to you?

It may not since the company doesn’t manufacture anything here.

But the name sure means something to the many workers inside the Element Electronics TV manufacturing facility in Winnsboro, S.C. The company is owned and operated by Trumbull County native Mike O’Shaughnessy.

O’Shaughnessy, who graduated from Champion High School in 1985 and later from The Ohio State University, wanted sincerely to bring a plant here to his hometown, but after months of going nowhere in his 2013 negotiations with officials in Warren, Vienna, Western Reserve Port Authority and other economic development teams, he opted to bypass the emotional connection and head instead to South Carolina.

Why? Because then-Gov. Nikki Haley (yes, the Nikki Haley who now regularly engages in exchanges with world leaders as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations) got the job done quicker.

“Ultimately, it came down to just getting it done,” O’Shaughnessy told me in 2013 for a business story I was writing for this newspaper. “I don’t think the people in northeast Ohio ever stopped working on it. But while they were working on it, we were already closing parts of the deal in South Carolina,” he said.

Shouldn’t that have been a learning moment for our area?

Let’s be realistic. Good intentions alone don’t bring jobs.

Now it appears we will lose another 1,000 potential new jobs and construction of a HomeGoods distribution center that had been considering Lordstown for its new home.

HomeGoods, a division of TJX Companies Inc., which owns TJ Maxx and Marshalls department stores, wanted to build a 1.2 million-square-foot center on 290 acres along Ellsworth Bailey Road. The plan involved rezoning about 175 acres from residential to industrial.

The potential jobs could have softened the blow delivered last week when General Motors announced it was slashing its workforce. GM’s cuts effectively will bring the auto plant’s workforce from more than 4,200 in late 2016 to about 1,500 come June.

But instead of opening our arms to offers of development, construction and new jobs, there was pushback from neighbors and even from Councilwoman Karen Jones.

Members of the organized opposition effort call themselves “Right Project on Right Property.” They say they want the jobs — just not on the parcel the company has researched heavily and selected.

The group intervened, outlining other parcels they thought surely this multi-million dollar company simply must have overlooked. They naively suggested that any of these other locations would be better suited for everyone.

Again, intentions don’t bring jobs.

HomeGoods has maintained consistently that it has explored every local option and that this was the right location for its new distribution center. After all, with this amount of pushback, why wouldn’t HomeGoods opt to move its plans if any other nearby parcel was just as amenable and also could accommodate the neighbors’ demands?

In the spirit of compromise, HomeGoods offered residents considerable wooded buffer zones to remain in perpetuity. It offered to add more landscaping and it reconsidered its plans to relocate Hallock Young Road. The company was planning to purchase some adjacent homes and had been discussing allowing some of the wooded property to remain residentially zoned.

Still, opponents remained critical. Resident Phil Eubank, for instance, told local media this: “They can say what they want, but there’s been no concessions made. … My position is if it’s not what we asked for, we don’t want it.”

The group threatened to take the matter to the voters in November. But even if the group’s effort failed — a definite likelihood — it would have tied the hands of HomeGoods’ development efforts until after the election.

Friday, HomeGoods acquiesced and withdrew its application to rezone the site.

Despite the personal criticism he received from those opposing the project, Mayor Arno Hill says he won’t give up.

Let’s hope those good intentions pay off.

blinert@tribtoday.com

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