As Janesville Assembly Plant was winding down at the end of a grim 2008, another General Motors town 500 miles to the east in Ohio was feeling upbeat.
In Lordstown, GM built small, fuel-efficient cars, the kinds of vehicles consumers were clamoring for after $4 gasoline decimated demand for Janesville's hulking SUVs. Two months after GM put Janesville on its doomed plant list, it announced a $350 million upgrade for Lordstown to replace the Chevrolet Cobalt with the Chevrolet Cruze, giving the Ohio workers a level of job security that was rare during such a troubled time for the U.S. auto industry.
"We have mixed emotions because so many other plants are closing," Jim Graham, then the president of UAW Local 1112 in Lordstown, said in August 2008, when GM redoubled its commitment to Lordstown. "But we're thriving, thank God."
A year later, President Barack Obama visited to highlight GM's fledgling post-bankruptcy revival. He declared Lordstown, which opened alongside the Ohio Turnpike in 1966, "one of GM's flagship plants" and wrote "The car of the future!" above his signature on the hood of a Cruze prototype. When Cruze production started the next year, Lordstown began running around the clock, and sales of the car took off.