Electric cars won’t kill jobs, they’ll create them in places like Rust-Belt Ohio

The global auto industry will need fewer employees in the future. That’s evident from the tens of thousands of jobs axed in 2019 for a host of reasons. The world’s manufacturing regions that survive (and thrive) in the 2020s will be the ones that embrace new technology. Rust-belt Ohio is emerging as a shining example of how EVs can become the savior – not the destroyer – of US auto-manufacturing jobs.

“For a long time in our community, we were chasing smokestacks, chasing things that were on the decline,” said US Representative Tim Ryan, about the region of northeast Ohio he represents. “[But] we’re starting to move in a good direction,” he told AP.

The global auto industry could shed about 80,000 jobs as it shifts to EVs, according to Bloomberg. Ohio understands what a declining industrial base means for its residents. So it’s not idly waiting for the change to come.

When he was running for president, Ryan made the case:

Please don’t tell me that we cannot take on the fossil fuel industry. Nothing happens unless we do that. What do you do with an industry that knowingly, for billions of dollars in short-term profits, is destroying this planet?

We have to invent our way out of this thing. And if we’re waiting for 2040 for a ban to come in on gasoline vehicles, we’re screwed.

If he was still in the race, Ryan would be one of the biggest supporters of EVs. (Compare where the leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates stand on EVs.)

Signs of Ohio moving in the right direction? In early December, GM announced a new joint-venture with LG Chem to build its own battery gigafactory. The plant will create 30 GWh of annual capacity in Lordstown, Ohio — the location of its recently shuttered factory where it had built internal-combustion cars for a half-century.

GM also sold its factory to Lordstown Motors, an EV startup affiliated with Workhorse – an electric truck and van company that started operations as AMP Electric Motors in 2007. Lordstown plans to hire more than 1,100 people and grow from there.

A Workhorse all-electric pickup

A Workhorse all-electric pickup

Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill told Fox News:

We’re hoping this is a start of a big electrification center for trucks in northeast Ohio. People are saying that it’s a changing world out there. If you don’t change, you’re going to wither on the vine and die. So we’re looking at the future and doing what’s best for Lordstown and our residents.

Nearby Youngstown is home to an EV battery testing lab and a program at Youngstown State University to train students for the electric-car industry.

“We want to take charge of our future. An opportunity like this really plays to our regional strengths,” said Mike Hripko, the university’s associate vice president for economic development and government relations.

Meanwhile, two weeks ago in Columbus, the state capital, state representatives gathered to announce plans to broaden EV adoption throughout Ohio. They presented a bipartisan bill to offer a $500 sales tax credit for the purchase of one electric vehicle each year for personal use; a $1,000 sales tax credit for each of up to 10 electric cars each year for commercial use; and a $1,500 sales tax credit for the construction of charging stations.

State Sen. Michael Rulli of Salem said he wants Ohio to be among the top three states in the country for EV adoption. An increasing share of those vehicles will either be built or have components made on Ohio soil.

Electrek’s Take

Stories about recent high-profile layoffs at Audi, Daimler, Ford, GM, and Nissan place the blame on EVs as a disruptor. In other words, electric vehicles are the scapegoat, rather than blame falling on short-sighted auto executives.

Unfortunately, the victims of the anti-EV myopia are rank-and-file workers (as well as everybody that breathes air). It doesn’t have to be this way, as evidenced by leaders in northeast Ohio. Other legacy manufacturing regions can sit back and watch the disruption approach like a tsunami. Or they can learn from Lordstown.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.