LIMA — Nearly 30 Ohio congressmen, senators and Ohio officials toured Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima on Tuesday afternoon, in town for Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State address and eager to learn more about the plant that manufactures mainly military tanks.
“What an impressive facility,” Ohio Auditor Dave Yost said. “It really makes you really proud to be an Ohioan and proud to be an American.”
Of all the tours and committee meetings happening around Lima on Tuesday, Ohio Speaker of the House Bill Batchelder said the tour of the tank plant was by far the most popular.
“Oh yeah, we were very excited about this. We might want to get a couple to drive around the capital,” he said, laughing.
Ohio Republican Senator and President Pro Tempore Chris Widener chose to take the tour, and one thing that impressed him was the history of the plant, mixed with its ability to incorporate new technology in the tanks.
“It was fascinating, American engineering at its best,” he said, following the tour. “The facility that has been in place since World War II, and they keep very good maintenance of it. And now, they’ve been installing the latest technology in the best war fighting machines.”
The tour included an information session containing numbers and figures from the plant that interested many Ohio legislators.
Assembly lines at the plant were shut down for 30 days but are expected to re-open on Monday for workers to continue production. Back in 2009, the tank was producing an average of 2.5 tanks per day. Currently, the plant only produces 0.65 per day, according to General Dynamics Land Systems tour guide and product manager Cliff Barber.
Barber said the reduction in production is mostly funding-related. State officials asked many questions concerning funding but also asked questions concerning how many defects per day the plant sees, what the inspection process entails and what materials make up the tanks.
But most state officials expressed concerns about the federal defense budget that caused controversy earlier in the year when there were talks about halting JSMC production until 2018.
“This plant is crucial,” Batchelder said. “This is the time when we need them overseas. We were running into problems with people really hurting our boys. They won’t get hurt in these tanks.”
The controversy sparked when some argued the U.S. no longer needed to produce the tanks because production was only costing the country more, and there was already a hefty surplus.
“You’d like to see it stay open, but as long as we have a sufficient number of tanks, that’s what’s important,” said Rep. Gerald Stebelton, a Republican. “I’ve done some reading about this, and we know they have 3,000 tanks stored in the desert and another 2,500 in active duty. But they want to work on the next generation of tanks, and that’s where I think we ought to go.”
Despite the federal controversy, Widener said Kasich is taking a new statewide approach on Ohio’s defense resources.
“We are working as a state to develop a strategy for the defense-related facilities,” said Widener, of Springfield. “In the past, it may have been Lima vs. Dayton vs. Mansfield, but that’s not the case anymore. The governor is out front of this and has been working on this for two years about developing a statewide strategy and maintaining what we have, and we’re here to support him.”
Though the plant’s production has been uncertain, the product remains unchanged.
“The abilities of this tank are unbelievable,” Stebelton said. “Its availability with a 360 degree turret, its speed, its weight, its sophistication, people just can’t understand it until they see it."