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In Ohio, Electric Cars are Starting to Reshape Jobs and Companies

Electric Car manufacturing on an assembly line

Ohio produces more internal combustion engines than any other state, making an adjustment to electric cars particularly urgent. Nearly 90,000 people work in Ohio for carmakers or parts suppliers, and several times that many are employed by businesses that serve those autoworkers and their families.

The changes are putting Ohio at the forefront of a new technology that is critical to fighting climate change. But some jobs will become obsolete, and some companies will go bankrupt. It’s an open question whether the winners will outnumber the losers.

“This is the largest transition in our industry since its inception,” said Tony Totty, the president of a United Auto Workers local that represents G.M. workers in Toledo.

Mr. Totty is optimistic about the members of his local. But he is worried about other colleagues whose jobs are tied to gasoline engines, he said.

There is “an expiration date on those facilities and those communities,” Mr. Totty said.

Warren, in eastern Ohio, knows what happens when a carmaker leaves town. The city has lost one-third of its population, about 20,000 people, since the 1970s, a process that accelerated after G.M. closed the factory in nearby Lordstown, which produced Chevrolet Cruze sedans, in 2019. Sales of that car had been fading as more Americans chose sport utility vehicles.

Even before that shutdown, auto production jobs had been declining. U.S. automakers and their parts suppliers employed about one million people at the end of 2018, down from more than 1.3 million in 2000. In the years before G.M. closed the Lordstown plant, it had reduced shifts and pared its work force.

“Our biggest export for the last 20 years has been talented young people,” said Rick Stockburger, the president of Brite Energy Innovators, an organization in Warren that offers work space, advice and funding to start-ups.

Today, things are looking somewhat better. Ultium Cells, a joint venture of G.M. and LG Energy Solution, is ramping up production of batteries near the defunct factory.

Foxconn, a Taiwanese manufacturer, has taken over the old G.M. plant and plans to produce electric vehicles and tractors there. The complex will also house an “electric vehicle academy” established by Foxconn and Youngstown State University to train workers.

That surge in investment is helping to revive Warren’s tidy but sleepy downtown. Doug Franklin, the mayor, who worked for G.M. in Lordstown, said he was pleased recently to step into a local restaurant where “nobody knew me, because we had so many new people.”

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