As Midwest Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, I visit communities around the region who are still suffering the effects of the Great Recession.
In the heat of election season, every bit of economic news tends to be viewed through a partisan lens. But as political passions cool a bit, what you find is a hunger among Americans of all political stripes for new jobs and business opportunities ‚Äì and for ways to create a cleaner, and more sustainable path to long-term economic growth.
That’s why the turn-around of America’s auto manufacturing industry ‚Äì based on building high-mileage, low emission vehicles ‚Äì is so remarkable.
Nationwide, the auto industry has added over 230,000 jobs in the last three years. Nearly 10,000 are in the state of Ohio, one of the states hit hardest by the 2008-2009 recession. Job growth driven by new, cutting-edge auto technology is one reason unemployment in Ohio, now at 7.0 percent, has dropped faster than in the nation as a whole.
One of the largest auto-related investments in the Midwest is Chrysler’s decision, announced in November of 2011, to invest $500 million and add 1,100 jobs in Toledo, home of the world-famous Jeep. A year later, the company’s production plans became the focus of intense debate in the last weeks of the just-concluded presidential election campaign.
With the dust settled and all the spin set aside, the facts are clear: Chrysler is hiring workers to build Jeeps in Toledo. The company didn’t spend half-a-billion dollars in Ohio in order to ship jobs overseas; instead, Chrysler will add a second shift of 1,100 workers in Toledo to build a new generation of more fuel-efficient models, featuring the company’s advanced Pentastar engine.
Dan Henneman, chair of the Jeep unit for UAW Local 12, pointed out that while building new and advanced vehicles workers maintain a commitment to core values of hard work, safety and product reliability.
“We work 10 hours a day, six days a week,” he told the Toledo Blade. “You’re building cars for people to [transport] their families in. We have a reputation to uphold of building the best world-class vehicles.”
In Ohio’s Mahoning Valley ‚Äì once a symbol of industrial decline ‚Äì is now the fourth-best place in the nation to find a job, thanks to jobs and investment linked to the hot-selling, high-mileage Chevy Cruze.
In August of this year, General Motors announced that they would invest $200 million in the Valley’s Lordstown plant, so the next generation of fuel-efficient Cruzes could be built there.
Traveling through the region gives me a chance to tune in to local news stories, where local workers like Bobbi Marsh share their excitement about working at Lordstown. “I would love to retire there. My dad was at the fab plant… for almost 42 years. He was a dye maker in skilled trades… He provided a great life for us and I am hoping to do the same thing for my family.”
David Berger, the mayor of Lima, Ohio, also sees opportunity in the ongoing shift to high-tech, cleaner U.S. cars and trucks. American Trim, based in Lima, is developing new technology to bond light-weight materials onto traditional car bodies, reducing vehicle weight and boosting fuel economy.
“There is a drive for new materials to help get to the new mileage rates,” Lima Mayor Berger told the Lima News. “It’s not about making what we’ve always made, but asking, ‚ÄòWhat are the next products?’”
In Lordstown, Lima, and Toledo, companies are creating new jobs to build gas-sipping vehicles that will save money at the pump and reduce dangerous emissions.
The new engine that Lordstown’s workers will install in the next-generation [diesel] Cruze is expected to drive its fuel economy to 50 mpg on the highway. American Trim’sinnovations are part of an industry-wide move towards lightweighting. And in Toledo, the Jeeps will achieve fuel efficiency with smaller ‚Äì yet powerful ‚Äì V-6 engines and nine-speed transmissions.
With each technological advance, more jobs are created for Ohio workers, and fewer emissions released into the air. That’s a recovery we can all feel good about.
Tiffany Ingram is the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Midwest Advocacy Director.