President Donald Trump at the Lima tank plant on Wednesday. Photo by Jim Otte.
Photo: Staff Writer
Photo: Staff Writer

Trump touts manufacturing growth at Lima tank plant

President says plant to add 400 jobs

The Joint Systems Manufacturing Center — the last American tank plant in operation — was nearly shuttered a few years ago.

“You better love me,” Trump told workers. “I kept this place open.”

The center’s workforce had declined to around 75 people but today employs around 600 and plans to hire another 400 people in the next 18 months, Trump told hundreds of supporters at the plant.

“You stuck it out,” Trump said. “And now you’ve got one of the most successful military plants anywhere in the world. It’s great.”

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Trump ordered M1A2 174 Abrams tanks in fiscal year 2019 and his administration invested $714 million to carry out the request. More than 200 Ohio suppliers create parts for the plant which builds the Army’s main battle tank called the M1A2 Abrams and an armored fighting vehicle known as the DCHA1 Stryker, according to the White House.

President Donald Trump at the Lima tank plant on Wednesday. Photo by Jim Otte.
Photo: Staff Writer

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said that while the president has taken credit for keeping Lima’s tank plant open, he is actually hurting the military with his emergency declaration to build a border wall. Money previously designated to build an expansion of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright–Patterson Air Force Base may be used to build the border wall.

“The president is hurting military missions by taking money away from Ohio military installations to pay for his vanity project,” Brown said in a statement.

President Trump touted the Lima plant’s growth as evidence for what he said is a return of manufacturing jobs to the U.S.

“We are rebuilding the American military. We are restoring American manufacturing and we are once again fighting for our American workers,” Trump said.

But, the president’s visit comes as the manufacturing industry and the Buckeye State garnered national attention recently for the closure of a General Motors factory just under 200 miles northeast in Lordstown.

Perhaps no state has better illustrated the re-aligning effects of Trump’s candidacy and presidency than Ohio, where traditionally Democratic-leaning working-class voters have swung heavily toward the GOP, and moderate Republicans in populous suburban counties have shifted away from Trump. It’s for that reason, administration officials said, that Trump keeps returning to Ohio

‘It’s a lot better now than it was a few years ago’

Trump’s message on manufacturing resonated with Mike Richards, a pipefitter who said he has worked at the JSMC for a decade. Richards said he’s been laid off a few times while working at the tank plant but that he was happy to return, especially since it recently was brought back to life.

“I thought it was a great speech. It really pumps you up to hear the commander-in-chief say what a good job you’re doing,” Richards said. “It’s a lot better (at the plant) now than it was a few years ago.”

But, the shadow of the Lordstown was present during Trump’s visit Wednesday.

The president himself acknowledged the Lordstown closure, saying “What’s going wrong with General Motors?” and saying that the members of the United Auto Workers will help get the Lordstown plant running again. The president also implied that General Motors closed its Lordstown plant because of the union and said that they should “lower their dues.”

President Donald Trump at the Lima tank plant on Wednesday. Photo by Jim Otte.
Photo: Staff Writer

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Last weekend, Trump took to Twitter to criticize UAW Local 1112 president Dave Green of the closed Lordstown plant. In Lima, Trump said he didn’t like dealing with union leaders, accusing them of sometimes being two-faced.

“I want to deal with the people in the union, not the heads of the union because the heads of the union are not honest,” Trump said.

Trump’s trip to Lima was met with disdain by Ohio Democrats.

In Lima, Democrats hosted an event prior to Trump’s speech at a union hall for plumbers, pipefitters and service technicians. Local leaders along with Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper criticized Trump for his attacks on union workers and his rhetoric.

“Ohioans honor workers and we honor veterans,” Pepper said. “Today in Lima, Donald Trump dishonored both.”

During his speech in Lima, President Trump also again criticized his former foe, the late Sen. John McCain who died in August. Trump said he never liked McCain and criticized him for voting against the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act and his support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other things.

The visit to Lima is part of a 2020 Trump strategy to appear in battleground states in his official White House capacity as much as possible this year, said a person with knowledge of the plans who was not authorized to speak publicly. Trump is expected to make similar trips throughout the year as he seeks to boost enthusiasm to counter an energized Democratic base. It’s a strategy employed by previous presidents, both to leverage the prestige of office for political purposes and to offset the steep costs of presidential campaign travel with corresponding taxpayer-funded events. After the Lima event, President Trump held a fundraiser in Canton.

Darlene Superville and Zeke Miller of the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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