HANNIBAL - Although three members of Congress want Ohio Gov. John Kasich and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to find a way to restart the Ormet plant, state Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, seems puzzled.
"I was not aware that it is the responsibility of neighboring states to keep jobs in Ohio," Gentile wrote in a letter to Kasich. "What might happen when a business that employs Ohioans in a neighboring state threatens to close? Will Ohio tax dollars be sent to Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana to keep businesses open there?"
However, Rob Nichols, Kasich's press secretary, questioned Gentile's leadership skills in the face of the Ormet adversity.
"His obvious interest is in political demagoguery and finger-pointing, but that's not really what it takes to lead and to help people who are hurting," Nichols said of Gentile.
Last week, Ormet President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Tanchuk said the company would cease operations due to high electric bills - a move that will cost about 750 workers their jobs, in addition to the 250 who were already laid off. This happened two days after the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio decided to lower the company's American Electric Power costs from $60 to $50 per megawatt-hour, rather than down to $45.89 per megawatt-hour as Ormet requested.
As Gentile questions Kasich's commitment to Ormet and Eastern Ohio, Republican U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, along with U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, mailed a joint letter to Kasich and Tomblin seeking help for Ormet and its workers.
"Many of these employees reside on both sides of the Ohio River in Ohio and West Virginia, leaving Ormet as the leading private employer in the region," the members of Congress wrote. "A solution must be found that ensures that operations continue; businesses and residences are not put in jeopardy; but most important, the hardworking men and women of Ormet continue to have a job in these tough economic times."
In February, Ormet filed for bankruptcy in U.S. District Court in Delaware. The company later announced a planned $221 million sale to Minnesota-based Wayzata, but emphasized this transaction required convincing the PUCO to allow Ormet to have lower AEP bills. After the PUCO ruled last week, Ormet officials said they had to close the plant because the bills are still too high.
"We cannot accept this announcement nor should anyone else; and would request a meeting with representatives from your offices, each state's economic development agencies, and Ormet's leadership team. Much is at stake for Ohio and West Virginia. We stand eager and ready to help," McKinley, Moore Capito and Johnson stated to Kasich and Tomblin.
"We share their concern for the workers and for the community, and would love to work with them to solve this problem," Nichols said in response to the letter.
Tomblin's office did not immediately comment Thursday.
Nichols said the Kasich administration is offering advice and support to those at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services One Stop center in Woodsfield. The center can help to provide job training and information on available positions for those looking for work.
"This is the start of a process that will continue because the governor is committed to continuing to work with Monroe County to find the right solution moving forward," Nichols said.
Despite the efforts, Gentile said Kasich should have done more to keep Ormet up and running, which would have eliminated the need for so much help from social services.
"I have had more interaction with the governor's office since people lost their jobs than I did before the shutdown," Gentile said.