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Trump's Lima, Ohio, visit: 5 things to know about America's last tank factory

Trump visits Ohio tank plant
Trump visits Ohio tank plant as part of 2020 strategy 00:41

President Trump on Wednesday will visit the last tank factory in America, with the appearance seen as a way to show how his economic policies are helping the manufacturing industry.

The visit to the Lima, Ohio-based Joint Systems Manufacturing Center comes at a delicate juncture for Mr. Trump, who has strongly criticized General Motors over the automaker's recent decision to close its Lordstown, Ohio, factory and lay off 3,300 workers. U.S. factory output also has slipped this year, unfortunate optics for a presidential administration that has made energizing the manufacturing sector a key priority.

Lima, a three-hour drive west of Lordstown, offers a preferable backdrop for Mr. Trump than the shuttered Lordstown GM plant. The Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, which is government-owned but operated by defense giant General Dynamics, got a huge boost earlier this year when the U.S. Army said it would spend $714 million to upgrade the M1A1 Abrams, the main battle tank used by the country's armed forces.

"The Trump defense budget is helping to create good manufacturing jobs at good wages, including in communities like Lima that have fallen behind economically," wrote Peter Navarro, director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, in an opinion piece in The New York Times on Tuesday. "The revitalized Lima plant will directly employ a little more than 1,000 employees."

Although that's a far cry from the 5,000 workers who were employed at the plant during World War II, the new jobs amount to a doubling of the workforce over the past five years. The factory's growth is also expected to boost Lima's economy, with newly hired workers supporting the area's restaurants, stores and services.

Here are five things to know about the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center as Mr. Trump visits the factory.

The factory made the first M1 Abrams tank

The first M1 Abrams tank was produced at the Lima, Ohio, facility and delivered to the U.S. Army in 1980. Today, the plant makes variations of that tank, as well as parts of the Stryker armored combat vehicle, according to the Defense Logistics Agency. Tanks are put through onsite testing on a two-mile track, which includes driving through deep water and off-road terrain. 

The plant almost shut down 5 years ago

Cuts to U.S. defense spending caused the factory to almost shut down five years ago, according to the Lima News. It cited efforts by several Ohio lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum in helping to save the plant, including Senators Sherrod Brown, D.-Ohio, and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. At the time, the factory employed about 400 workers.

"Punch in the gut": Ohio community talks impact of GM plant closing 07:13

Trump has steered billions in funding to the plant

In 2017, the Trump administration earmarked more than $1 billion for tank upgrades at the factory, according to the Lima News, while Mr. Trump proposed 2020 budget includes $2.3 billion in new spending. 

New jobs at the factory pay as much as $20 an hour

The Joint Systems Manufacturing Center ramped up hiring in the last year, thanks to the new defense spending on tank upgrades. Most of the jobs pay about $19 to $20 an hour, a county official told the Lima News. That equates to an annual salary of about $41,000, or about one-third higher than Lima's median annual pay of $31,000. 

Kuwait, Australia and other allies buy the tanks

Allies including Kuwait, Australia and Saudi Arabia buy Abrams tanks built at the factory, Navarro said. He cited the purchases as "help[ing] create good jobs at good wages in America."

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