One-thousand laid-off Ormet employees are no longer "unemployed." At least, that is the position our elected leaders in Columbus have taken.
Ohio's politicians refused any assistance in regards to finding a resolution to save Ormet's jobs. These are the same politicians that manipulated the unemployment rate so it only counts individuals currently receiving unemployment benefits. Once the benefits ran out, even though the workers still didn't have jobs, they were dropped from unemployment statistics. So no matter how many jobs Ohio actually loses due to the negligence of our leaders, the statistics will always get better. When Ormet Aluminum Plant goes on the auction block on June 24, those who call our area home are praying that an investor who plans to resume operations places a bid, delaying the scrap bidders from dismantling Ormet and selling it off by the ton. If not, we will permanently lose a significant amount of economic stimulus in our economy, including decent paying jobs, production in coal and electricity, and school funding. Local businesses who partnered with Ormet will also take a hit. The effects of Ormet's closing will not only impact our economy today, but will follow us into the future.
Our current state representative, Andy Thompson, has stated "The difficult thing for Ormet is the economic climate right now. The market for aluminum is not good." Nothing like stating the obvious, China has been subsidizing their metal manufacturing for several years now. Raw material manufacturing drives an economy and then stimulates it with incoming money through exports. Ohio's current politicians don't understand that manufacturing is affected by much more than just the current state of the economy. Countries like China understand the importance of metal manufacturing for economic growth, and their plan is to dominate and eliminate our metal manufacturing until they no longer have to subsidize it and sell it under market value. My question is this: China has a plan to eliminate our metal manufacturing; why don't we have a plan to save it?
Unlike Gov. Kasich and State Rep. Andy Thompson, who immediately surrendered Ormet's aluminum manufacturing to China as they did with the last of eastern Ohio's steel production, I look at Ormet's present situation as a great economic opportunity. Let's take a moment and find a way not only to save Ormet and all the current jobs and economic benefits, but take it a step further and discuss a plan to drive investment back into eastern Ohio manufacturing. The fact is, Ormet was asking for a break on their electric rate in order to buy enough time to construct their own gas fired power plant to generate their own electricity. The cost of electricity is a major expense occurred in aluminum production. To put it to scale, Ormet used as much electricity as the entire city of Pittsburgh consumes. Ormet's leadership already had a long term plan, using their company owned gas to generate their electrical needs. This would drastically cut manufacturing costs per ton of aluminum and keep aluminum production in southeastern Ohio for decades to come. This would put Ormet in a strong position to be able to compete against countries like China. Additionally, Ormet would have the opportunity to expand in the global market.
We have the opportunity to take Ormet's situation and turn it into an advantage with our local area's energy deposits. This would stimulate current and new manufacturing growth on our side of the state by developing a low cost power supply using our local coal and shale gas energy. This could be achieved in one of two ways. The first would be for a public/private partnership between Ohio energy producers and manufacturers like Ormet. The State of Ohio could offer public-assisted backing for developmental lending from private banking at a low to zero rate for construction of a new power plant or to bring an existing power plant that is targeted for shutdown up to modern standards. With the condition that manufacturers like Ormet receive a specified reduction in rate. The second way would be for a manufacturer (Ormet) to construct a power plant, and produce their energy needs at cost. Lower manufacturing energy costs would level the playing field with China. With the right business plan Ormet would have the opportunity with low cost energy to expand their market into other metals or finished products made from aluminum like automotive parts. In turn, Ormet would become a low cost energy and raw material supplier for a new division producing their own finished product. Very low energy and loan costs with the right leadership could start an investment into manufacturing we haven't seen in the Ohio Valley for decades.
Ormet could have been the starting point for a real manufacturing economic development plan. Instead, Kasich and Thompson are wasting Ohioans hard earned tax dollars on special interest political handouts, and the $2.5 billion through JobsOhio. Ohio's leaders could have backed low rate or even zero percent business loans for this development at no cost to the Ohio taxpayer, while simultaneously saving over $3 billion of our money. Additionally, we would be stimulating future coal and gas production by using our local resources to create and support Eastern Ohio jobs.
In an economy, money flows toward manufacturing, not retail. Ohio was once the leader among rust belt states; we have an opportunity standing right in front of us to lead once again, both in metal manufacturing and many other categories. Ohioans desperately need good paying jobs and Ohio businesses need profits. It's far time that our elected leadership starts standing up to all the foreign imports and start putting our people before politics. Ohio and American businesses and our workers should come first.
Charlie Daniels lives in St. Clairsville.