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Editorial: First impression can be economic development key


A recent editorial by the Youngstown Vindicator:

It’s been said you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

That could not have been made more clear than it was in the story relayed last week by the CEO of a Tennessee-based manufacturer at his company’s ribbon cutting and grand opening in Lordstown.

M&M Industries, maker of plastic pails, started production within the past month or so at its new Lordstown plant. Incredibly, company president / CEO Glenn H. Morris last week was already speaking about his expansion plans there.

“We’ll be expanding this building by several thousand square feet, over 70,000 square feet in the next year, almost 80,000,” Morris told the crowd that gathered inside the Henn Parkway plant Wednesday. “Right now what you see is probably 35 to 38 percent of what the plant will produce in the machines.”

The first shipments from the plant were made three weeks ago. M&M manufactures pails and packaging for pool chemicals, bioscience, laboratory and pharmaceutical as well as specialty paint and food products.

Lordstown is the company’s fourth U.S. location. The others are in Chattanooga and Phoenix. The Lordstown facility, Morris said, will help cut down on lead time for customers.

M&M Industries purchased the building and 15.5 acres for $5.4 million in December 2020 following the closure the previous year of its former occupant, Magna Seating Systems, which fell victim to the closure of the nearby General Motors assembly plant. Magna had produced seating for the Chevrolet Cruze built at the factory.

That should serve as a strong reminder that it really is true that when one door closes, another opens.

But an even more important message delivered by Morris last week was the value of the first impression he received when he visited the Mahoning Valley and Lordstown as he endeavored to find an expanded home for this operation.

Eight months into his search, several locations had come under consideration.

But his decision was made quickly after a site visit here Sept. 11, 2020.

“I pulled into the parking lot up here, and I really liked this building. Lordstown made a lot of sense, and I liked Lordstown, and we began to look at this from a strategic point of view and what this building could do and what this geographic area could do — and all of it started falling in line,” Morris said.

A meeting later with the Lordstown school board on a tax incentive request sealed the deal.

“In 20 minutes I fell in love with Lordstown. What I saw was a vibrant group of people worried about the future of their kids and everything about this town lit up for me, and when I walked out of that meeting, I was with Bettina Johnson (M&M chief financial officer), we sat down in the car (and) I said, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore. I have to be here,’” Morris said.

And just like that, the decision was made.

Certainly, obstacles always exist when finalizing a deal of such magnitude. Issues like location and accessibility come into play. As do a community’s ability to offer desired or needed incentives, not to mention an available and trained workforce, and much more.

But in this case, the cooperative efforts of the board of education also became key. That should send a message to public bodies about the importance of cooperation to economic growth. While we understand debate and discourse are an integral part of local government, so too, is sending a message of a willingness to work together to get the job done.

Clearly, that happened in Lordstown.

Equally important, of course, was the cooperative effort put forth by the state and region’s key economic development teams, including the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, the Trumbull County Planning Commission, Western Reserve Port Authority, Team NEO, Ohio Means Jobs and even the Ohio Rail Development Commission that offered a $100,000 grant to help develop needed rail access to the plant. Together, each entity played an important role in moving the project along.

But, at the end of the day, none of this would have mattered if Morris didn’t like what he first encountered.

The story drives home a point that most economic development experts would tell property owners or governmental entities: Don’t ever underestimate the value of a good first impression.

— Youngstown Vindicator, Oct. 31