WARREN, Ohio – As automakers start producing more electric vehicles, leading to connected vehicles and self-driving vehicles, residents of Mahoning Valley will likely see these changes firsthand.
âWe are part of a major paradigm shift in transportation,â said Brian Kelley, chief technology officer for the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission. âThe gasoline engine will now be gone. GM and Ford and all the other major automakers have now pointed it out, and they’re investing heavily in electrification.
This transition places the Mahoning Valley in a unique position to woo businesses that are also positioning themselves for this paradigm shift and looking for a place that brings it all together, he said. The Lordstown and Voltage Valley projects play a strategic role.
Kelley shared her thoughts on a proposed smart logistics hub during a panel discussion at the Impact Ohio Mahoning Valley 2021 regional conference, which took place at the Grand Resort on Friday. He was joined by Jonathan Bridges, general manager of automotive, steel and white goods at JobsOhio; Jim Kinnick, Executive Director of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments; and Luke Stedke, director of communications and policy for DriveOhio. Justin Dennis, reporter for Mahoning Matters, moderated the panel.
The paradigm shift Kelley talked about isn’t just happening locally, but across the country. He cites as an example the traffic trends on tolls. While overall traffic declined during the pandemic, commercial traffic “has increased right now compared to last year” as more and more people shop online. The number of Amazon Prime trucks using the toll highway has increased, he said.
âThere are still a lot of supply and logistics issues right now around the world and in the United States,â Kelley said. “Which makes me wonder what it’s going to be when things get back to normal.”
The Mahoning Valley is a strategic location in the Midwest, connecting the northeast and the west, he said. It therefore plays an important role in the overall image of logistics and distribution, so it is a good candidate for a smart logistics hub.
âWe have the opportunity to be just as important in this paradigm shift as Detroit was in the early 1900s,â Kelley said.
Lordstown, in particular, is a “natural fit,” said Jim Kinnick, executive director of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments. After General Motors ceased operations at its former Lordstown assembly plant, a study on how to recover from the loss of the auto industry identified ways to diversify the local economy. The results included electric vehicles, logistics, information technology and additive manufacturing, Kinnick said.
“[Smart logistics] really follows the guidelines of the stimulus package and diversification opportunities, âhe said.
The goal of smart logistics is to use electric, connected and autonomous vehicle technology to improve travel efficiency while reducing wear and tear on vehicles and infrastructure, while creating jobs, encouraging investment for innovation and improving safety.
When identifying opportunities, planners should consider what offers the best value for the region, Kinnick said. Intermodal terminals, for example, include truck and rail connectivity, allowing freight to be pulled from trains and loaded onto trucks for distribution, he said.
âThat was one of the things that we originally looked at and are still looking at,â he said.
A $ 500,000 state planning and research grant enabled Eastgate to bring in a team of experts to identify the best opportunities for the region, he said. Besides electric vehicles and logistics, having a strong broadband network is one of these opportunities.
Over the next six months, the team will present their recommendations and direction, Kinnick said.
The broadband aspect coincides with the toll highway upgrade of all fiber optic equipment along the entire 241 mile stretch, Kelley noted. This project will likely start at the end of this year and end in 2022.
Once the opportunities are identified and accepted, it’s important that everyone involved develops an aggressive plan to show federal and state agencies that plans can be executed quickly, Kinnick said. Such plans are needed to ensure that grant money is properly spent so that the region can apply for more money.
âFederal and state money is available if you have a plan,â he said. âIf they give you money, you better be able to spend it over the next couple of years. “
The idea of ââsmart logistics puts the Mahoning Valley at the forefront of the transition to a new economy, JobsOhio’s Bridges said. Large employers in the electric vehicle market, such as Lordstown Motors Corp. and Ultium Cells LLC, as well as large distribution centers such as the TJX HomeGoods center in Lordstown and the Macy’s Inc. center in North Jackson, will benefit from the logistics hub, which will be vital in supporting technology and suppliers coming to the region. to supply these businesses.
âThis supply chain does not exist in North America,â said Bridges. âWhat is established here is going to feed the rest of the United States, potentially Canada, maybe Mexico as well.
âIt’s creating a story that we want around Voltage Valley. The name says what’s going on here.
Being among the first to embrace smart logistics is not without risk, he admits. He cited workforce challenges as a problem. But through the planning process, those involved identify these issues and come up with solutions so that the Mahoning Valley and Ohio can be “what other states and cities will seek in help,” he said. .
âSo either you’re crippled with fear of the future or you’re living in the present and focused on the future,â Kelley said. âWhat we’re doing here in the Mahoning Valley is really positioning ourselves and focusing on the future, which is to follow.
Part of what comes next is connected vehicles, such as autonomous or semi-autonomous trucks capable of wirelessly connecting to each other, he said. The lead truck maintains speed, direction and braking for one or more trucks behind it, allowing the convoy to move more efficiently using less energy.
Innovation in the consumer vehicle market will also be tied to the smart logistics hub, Kelley said. Connected vehicles are increasingly becoming all vehicles that come off the assembly lines contain 70 to 100 million lines of software code.
Next year, every Ford vehicle that rolls off the line will have built-in technology that will allow Ford vehicles to communicate with each other, he said. In 2023, GM vehicles will be able to update their software wirelessly.
“The technology will allow vehicles to be able to communicate in the traffic lanes,” he said. âAnd to share safety information. This will charge for transportation as we know it.
Regardless of the market or industry, when considering how to innovate and move the needle forward, one of the guidelines is partnership, said DriveOhio’s Stedke.
âIt takes like-minded innovators to come together,â he said. “We are monitoring the development of a new transport system in real time.”
With that comes new forms of last mile delivery and new connectivity, in terms of innovation and people, he said. When speaking with companies wishing to come to Ohio, Stedke said one of the things they are most interested in is seeing long-term working relationships between the cities and counties of the State.
The first projects will help to generate interest.
In spring 2022, Eastgate’s Kinnick plans to launch an autonomous shuttle to the city center as part of the Smart2 project – Strategic & Sustainable, Medical & Manufacturing, Academic & Arts, Residential & Recreational, Technology & Training – Network.
What will become only the second such shuttle in the state is already attracting interest from potential suppliers to the industry, Kinnick said.
“The attention he has given to the region as a pioneer in this region and as a city is certainly paying off,” he said. âAnd that’s how we develop our efforts; grow our initiative.
Charging electric vehicles on the road is also a possibility, he said, and they are considering the split swap in Lordstown as a way to test it. Such technology puts the wires on the road for about a quarter of a mile. As the vehicles go through it at 25 miles per hour, “you’re picking up enough charge to go another 100 miles,” he said.
Among the challenges facing regional partners is site preparation, said Eastgate’s Kinnick. The partners are looking for ways to speed this up to make sure the ground is ready for businesses wanting to locate here.
The region must also be ready to react faster and cheaper than competing regions to meet the needs of businesses, especially public services.
Pictured: Justin Dennis of Mahoning Matters moderates panel discussion on the future of Lordstown’s smart logistics hub, with panelists Jonathan Bridges, general manager of automotive, steel and white goods at JobsOhio; Luke Stedke, general manager of communications and policy at DriveOhio; Brian Kelley, chief technology officer for the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission; and Jim Kinnick, executive director of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.
Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.