EAST PALESTINE — When a Norfolk Southern train derailed Feb. 3, much of the focus fell on the lives that were thrown off the tracks along with 53 rails. On Monday, attention turned to the livelihoods impacted as U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) returned to East Palestine to hear directly from the manufacturing industry and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced a new emergency support program to assist East Palestine businesses impacted by the February train derailment.
Monday’s visit to the village marked the sixth for the senator since the derailment. Brown toured RBS Manufacturing, a ceramics plant in East Palestine, and held a roundtable for local manufacturers where he learned about workforce woes in the wake of the rail disaster as the businesses struggle to shake the stigma.
“I heard from the agriculture community a few weeks ago and even though their products have tested safe, people are buying elsewhere because they might not have confidence. Manufacturing is about the workforce,” Brown said. “It’s always a challenge to hire skilled workers in a community like this because not a lot of people have these skills. Companies take time to train employees and then they end up moving to bigger cities. The derailment created an even bigger challenge. This company is doing well; there’s still challenges of hiring people.”
RBS Manufacturing is located one street away from the tracks and employs about 35 at the East Palestine location. The business sustained some fire damage in the initial events of Feb. 3 but were closed less than a week.
“We were closed for three to four days,” said Rick Severs, vice president and general manager of RBS Manufacturing. “That was our main disruption, but now it’s the lack of confidence in what’s going on.”
Brown said it is his job to make Norfolk Southern provide a remedy to village businesses – from small storefronts to bigger companies – that have suffered in any way by the derailment.
“Norfolk Southern is being cooperative in many ways, but we are still challenging them to live up to their obligations,” Brown said. “We will continue to watch them and to pressure them. “
Brown said he will keep applying pressure for as long it takes.
“This is the kind of community that’s so often forgotten or exploited by corporate America. I’m here for the long haul,” he said. “We’re still going to be here as long as it takes to make sure residents get the support they need, and that includes every manufacturer in Columbiana County and the surrounding area.”
Some businesses cannot afford to wait for a remedy. Their positions are more precarious. Those businesses can now turn to the East Palestine Emergency Support Program. The program will provide zero-percent-interest, forgivable loans to businesses to assist with ongoing expenses and recovery efforts associated with the train derailment. For-profit and nonprofit Ohio businesses located within a 2-mile radius of East Palestine that were operational on or prior to Dec. 1, 2022, are eligible to apply for loans ranging from $10,000 to $1 million. The radius measured from the center of the village.
“We are building on the commitment we made more than four months ago to support the families of East Palestine,” said DeWine. “This program is essential for long-term recovery, giving the businesses impacted by this tragedy more support to recover and thrive.”
The program was made possible through collaborative efforts from DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, Ohio Senator Michael Rulli (R-Salem) and State Rep. Monica Robb Blasdel (R-Columbiana County). On Monday, the State Controlling Board approved the transfer of the $5 million to be used to fund East Palestine Emergency Support Program.
“The recovery efforts and ongoing support we have seen in East Palestine are truly remarkable,” said Rulli. “I am grateful for the Controlling Board’s approval of these critical relief dollars that will help small businesses in my community continue to recover. It is crucial we continue to do all we can to ensure our small businesses have what they need to thrive once again.”
The loans may be eligible for forgiveness if the funds are used for payroll, employee benefits, rent or mortgage payments, utility expenses, worker protection gear related to the train derailment, and inventory replacement expenses. The program will be administered by the Ohio Department of Development. Additional details on the program will be available at development.ohio.gov/eastpalestine.
The program is a step in the right direction, according to Robb Blasdel.
“Our people of East Palestine deserve to be made whole regarding the destructive derailment that impacted that entire community,” Robb Blasdel said. “For our businesses and employees who work so hard for the town and residents, this will allow them to receive loans for any damages related to the accident. Hopefully, this is one way we can help East Palestine and our businesses move forward.”