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Published: Thursday, 11/17/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Chrysler expansion lifts hopes of Toledo-area's unemployed

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Katrina Barnhill, laid off by Jeep in 2007, said local workers should be hired. Katrina Barnhill, laid off by Jeep in 2007, said local workers should be hired.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Laid-off autoworker Graylin Gunn wasted no time Wednesday probing what Chrysler's expansion plans could mean for him.

Buoyed by confirmation of the company's plans to add 1,100 jobs in Toledo, the 50-year-old central-city resident hurried to The Source of Northwest Ohio and checked on Chrysler's Web site for employment updates.

Mr. Gunn has been out of work for more than a year, since losing his assembly-line job at Dana Holding Corp. He said unemployment has taken both a financial and an emotional toll, and he's eager to get back to work.

"I'm having a hard time. It beats you down," Mr. Gunn said as he held a list of auto companies to which he's applied. Chrysler's announcement "gives me hope. A lot of hope. It keeps hope alive."

RELATED ARTICLE: Chrysler outlines plans for $1.7 billion investment

Chrysler's formal announcement of its job creation and expansion plans Wednesday was a godsend to Toledo's unemployed, who continue to face a fiercely inhospitable job market.

The news was also a boon to the region's political leaders, all eager to tout a positive development for northwest Ohio's economy, and to show they had a hand in making it happen.

At The Source job center, work-force development manager Michael Veh said he is seeing a constant stream of people asking about vacancies at Chrysler. Although the automaker will handle recruitment through its own Web site -- chryslercareers.com -- Mr. Veh said The Source can help with resume and interview preparation.

Gov. John Kasich's administration took credit for shepherding through millions of dollars in state incentives for Chrysler to help make its expansion a reality. The incentive package includes a $10.2 million job creation tax credit, a $1.5 million economic development grant, and an Ohio Workforce Guarantee training grant for $550,000.

"It was a deal that Jobs Ohio put together," Mr. Kasich's spokesman Robert Nichols said, referencing the governor's semi-private job creation entity. "It was started in March of this year and occurred entirely within our administration."

Some Democratic leaders, however, pinned the praise on President Obama's bailout of Chrysler in 2008 and 2009 of more than $7 billion, which helped the company emerge from government-controlled bankruptcy. Without the federal government's intervention, the automaker's expansion plans could never have been possible, they said.

"I don't think that Chrysler would exist as we know it but for the President's leadership and willingness to step forward under extreme political pressure to save the United States automotive industry," State Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon) said. "Had the President and [local Democratic leaders] not met the charge to invest in our automotive industry, then we clearly would not have the announcement of 1,100 new jobs in Toledo, Ohio."

Mr. Szollosi criticized Mr. Kasich, a Republican, for taking credit for Chrysler's actions, referencing a somewhat skeptical remark he made about the bailout on Fox News, two years before he took political office.

Out of work for more than a year, Graylin Gunn said the Chrysler deal offers hope. Out of work for more than a year, Graylin Gunn said the Chrysler deal offers hope.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Mr. Nichols dismissed the accusations and said Mr. Szollosi was simply bitter because he voted against Jobs Ohio.

Meanwhile, Toledo officials rejoiced at Chrysler's announcement and predicted it would have a positive effect on the region's economy.

Mayor Mike Bell said the new manufacturing jobs are exactly what Toledo needs.

City Councilman Rob Ludeman, who chairs the economic development committee, said the new jobs will bring in much-needed tax revenue and increase overall consumer spending. That will make up for any money lost because of Toledo's own incentives that it offered Chrysler, he said.

"Every time I hear of good-paying jobs I think about the ripple effects of those people working," Mr. Ludeman said. "The tax revenue generated by those people selling goods and services to those new employees will far outweigh the concessions that the city has made."

Gbenga Ajilore, an associate professor of economics at the University of Toledo, also heralded Chrysler's announcement as a good step forward. But he said it will take more than 1,100 jobs to spur significant growth in the city. What Toledo needs to focus on, the professor said, is diversifying its industry away from solely auto manufacturing.

"This is just one firm and, while it's good, it's not going to have the widespread impact we hope for," he said. "We can't just rely on Chrysler; Chrysler's not going to save Toledo."

However, the professor said the announcement could serve as a morale booster for people in Toledo struggling with long-term unemployment, and encourage them to remain in the city.

John Gibney, spokesman for the economic development agency, Regional Growth Partnership, said Chrysler's commitment to Toledo and its work force could also give other companies the confidence to invest in the area.

Like Mr. Gunn, North Toledo resident Katrina Barnhill is also hoping to land a job with the company. She was laid off from the Jeep plant in 2007 and has struggled to make ends meet since then.

With two young children at home, she longs for the day when she can afford to say "yes" to requests for a toy or a visit to Chuck E. Cheese's.

"I just always say, 'We'll see what happens next month,'" Ms. Barnhilll said. "If these 1,100 jobs come for real, I just want [Chrysler] to hire people who live here, in this city."

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at: cbarrett@theblade.com or 419-724-6272.



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