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Worker and Workhorse: New York Times examines two sides of Lordstown shutdown

How it affected one family, and a look at the savior in need of saving

The New York Times over the long weekend published two features that looked closely at the drama surrounding GM's Lordstown, Ohio, plant. The first piece looks at the history of GM's assembly plant in the northwest Ohio town through the eyes of a second-generation Lordstown worker, now unemployed. Rick Marsh's father started at the plant the year after it opened, in 1967. The elder Marsh got his son a job at the facility in 1993, working in the paint shop. It was Rick's first job, and for 26 years, his only job.

Of course there's a political element to the story, but perhaps not one you'd expect. The Marshes, a union family, voted Democrat for years, and watched the plant's fortunes falter. Commercial factors like automation whittled the paint department from 38 workers to four over 30-some years. Political and commercial factors like NAFTA whittled U.S.-based factories and union bargaining power. So during the last election, when Donald Trump made a point of talking to workers, the Marshes voted for him.

With Lordstown done for and no near-term relief in sight, "That's when I realized these parties were not so different," Rick said. "Nobody had our backs in office, not Democrats or Republicans. I'm tired of being sugarcoated and being robbed in the process." He's less concerned about pinning blame, more focused on figuring out where to go from here, and looking for someone who will get the plant going again. "I really don't care if it's a Democrat, Republican, male, female, black, white, I don't care."

There's a lot more to the article, tracing the arc of middle-class manufacturing in America through a prototypical American family. And it's full of quotes that could have come from " The Grapes of Wrath": "People are going to get hungry," Rick said, "and when I mean hungry, I don't mean just for food."

The second piece sketches in some rough details about the company touted as the best potential savior for Lordstown: electric truck maker Workhorse. The rough detail part comes in finding that Workhorse is a secondary player. The actual entity trying to "reinvent" the plant and the city has been kept secret. It's headed by Workhorse's founder and former CEO, Steve Burns, and Workhorse would have a minority stake assuming a successful transaction.

The problem is that Workhorse is a potential savior that is itself in relentless need of saving. Perpetually on the brink of insolvency, according to NYT, it has lost $150 million over its 12 years in business, had less than $3 million in cash at the end of March 2019, makes high-interest loans from hedge funds, and is obligated to pay suppliers in advance. It has built 365 electric commercial trucks in those 12 years, and doesn't have the funds to begin building the fleet trucks that could keep it in business. Workhorse has excellent prospects, with customers praising its products and thousands of orders on the books — but a rough chance of making the most of them.

Burns is said to need $300 million to get Lordstown back in business, and continues to work with GM on a deal. None of the principal players has answers they'll commit to publicly. Meanwhile, in its last filing, Workhorse said it needed $22 million — little more than the price of the Bugatti La Voiture Noire — to stay in business.

Outsiders see little hope; analyst Sam Abuelsamid at Navigant Research said, "The chances of Workhorse's affiliate successfully getting the plant transferred and retooled are extremely small." But a little hope is all folks like Rick Marsh — and there are a lot of Rick Marshes across the country — have to go on right now.

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