Monday, February 8, 2010

(Editorial) Development group must make an impact

The best thing the newly formed Richland Community Development Corp. can do to quickly gain strength and credibility is to make something noticeable happen.

It doesn’t have to be a new employer coming to town with hundreds of jobs or anything close to that level of accomplishment, but it does have to be something residents can see and understand.

The new group announced its formation last week on the day before formal production ended at the Ontario General Motors plant. It is the closure of that plant and the dissolution of the Richland Economic Development Corp. that sparked the formation of this new group.

Instead of focusing on job creation through the recruitment of new businesses, the community development organization is going to attack quality of life issues here. The theory is that it will be easier to create new jobs if we make the community a place where people want to live.

We like the approach, particularly the idea of building upon our strengths. The group, which was put together by eight local business operators, is now doing an asset inventory to determine an attack strategy.

We are supportive of this entire venture and recognize that it will take time to put a plan together and begin execution of that plan. We encourage the group to keep the community posted on its findings, plans and achievements.

We also recognize, however, that a great deal of skepticism exists about the ability of any organization to reverse the downward force that seems to be in control.

Getting something tangible at least started quickly seems critical to arresting the skepticism.

Grant Milliron, one of the founding organizers, believes a beautification project that tears down blighted homes and commercial structures could quickly create a more positive view of Mansfield. He suggests that effort start with entrances to the city.

We like Milliron’s idea. It may not get at the root causes of decline, but it would be noticeable and could quickly change perceptions.

Chances for success of the overall community development effort will improve with the involvement of more people and businesses. Everyone should lend a hand at this critical juncture in the history of our community.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

(Editorial) Our Opinion: GM was good for Richland County

The end of operations at the General Motors Corp. Mansfield/Ontario Metal Center also was the end of a way of life for workers and their families around Richland County.

On Friday, production ceased and the “top-of-the-line” machines used for stamping GM auto parts fell silent for the first time in more than 50 years.

The news of its construction in 1955 brought mixed emotion for many residents. Greeted with open arms by city planners, GM promised jobs, growth and economic stability. Others saw the plant as yet another factory that sped urban sprawl in northern Ohio.

But for good or ill, GM did bring growth.

By 1956 production at the new factory was under way, a new rail line addition was completed in 1964, and the factory continued to expand through 2005.

For those 50 years, our community benefited from all that GM brought to the area. Schools saw new facilities, homes were built in new neighborhoods and business came to town, bringing with it a diversified economy that led to better job stability.

But in 2006 things began to unravel financially for GM. That year the company sold off 51 percent of its stake in GMAC Financial Services.

In 2007, the company reported losses of $38.7 billion.

When gas prices topped $4 per gallon in 2008, the company said it would close four pickup and sport utility vehicle factories, shed 8,350 jobs and sell its Hummer brand. Later that year, executives sought help from the government. In December the company received $13.4 billion, but posted a $30.9 billion annual loss.

In March of last year, when President Barack Obama told the company it had not done enough to restructure, it was apparent that the Ontario plant was doomed.

United Auto Workers shop chairman Ron Willis described the situation best Thursday.
“We’re on the Titanic,” Willis said. “We’re just trying to find a lifeboat.”

GM filed for bankruptcy in June and announced the eminent closure of the Ontario plant.
To the credit of GM, it did what it could to retain as many jobs as possible. Unfortunately, it meant relocation for families that had built lives here.

What the future brings is uncertain. It isn’t likely that we will see another GM-type of operation soon, but as local leaders work to attract more jobs we remind them of the reasons GM located here in the first place. At the top of that list is the people.

Life for our residents will continue and we will look back at the GM days as a good time in our community’s long history.

Friday, February 5, 2010

(Editorial) Opinion Shapers: When your world falls apart, there are ways to heal

Mansfield residents responded with a strong voice this week when Adultmart unveiled its 80-foot sign Monday.

With no warning, neighbors and nearby business owners learned about the store that would sell lingerie, adult toys and pornographic videos and magazines at the site once occupied by Big Boy and Joe’s Restaurant.

Some customers who patronize businesses in the area already have said they will shop elsewhere.

How could this have happened?

Why didn’t somebody ask a few more questions?

Why did the city approve a sign without even knowing what it was going to say?

These are all good questions that damage the faith we put in our city leaders.

They also are questions with answers that may or may not have made any difference as to whether the store opened.

When the sign went up, residents immediately began pointing fingers at the City of Mansfield, but in actuality it seems Adultmart jumped through all the appropriate hoops.

So the outrage really comes from the lack of any warning that such a business would be opening. This is something that Adultmart owners planned very strategically.

When Dave Remy, the city’s law director, began investigating the situation, he didn’t find many red flags — which perhaps was a red flag in itself.

“The file was absolutely blank as to what was going to go in there, except as a mercantile establishment,” Remy said this week.

But, again, even if the file were full of information, it may not have mattered.

In the world of retail business, the old mantra “location, location, location” holds a lot of weight. Retail business comes and goes based primarily on how much profit can be made in any particular location.

City leaders, however, have lots of tools at their discretion that can help determine how a business operates — the size of signs, the shape and orientation of buildings, parking lot locations, even the colors used on the exterior.

In the case of Adultmart, the city has admitted to having the wool pulled over its eyes and is now scrambling to see if any “deception — for lack of a better word” occurred when the store obtained permits.

Whether or not the city can do anything procedurally to shutter this eyesore at the southern entrance to our city is yet to be determined.

But there is plenty the general public can do.

Remember retail businesses live and die by the amount of money that comes through the door and into cash registers. If Adultmart is unprofitable it will not last.

The strongest voice of all is the voice we use when we speak with our wallets.