Monday, June 7, 2021

Count Me Grateful to Our Licking County Manufacturers

We can be proud.  Licking County is at the heart of an Ohio manufacturing comeback story.

Licking County manufacturers stayed open and safe throughout the pandemic, supplying the World with much-needed goods and services.

The stories are tremendous.  Plant-based seafood from Gathered Foods and organic baby formula from Nature’s One started production on the Port Authority campus in 2020.  The pandemic could not keep these shelf-stable, protein-rich products from making their way to consumers.

Military guidance systems from Boeing, soy crisps from GB Food, gas compressor components from Ariel, and steel strapping from Samuel Packaging kept the pace too.   Kaiser Aluminum, Bionetics, and MISTRAS Group were part of the diverse industry mix that kept churning out needed products and services.

The Port Authority’s industrial campus in Heath has proven to be Ohio’s shining example of the sort of economic engine that kept our economy churning despite the pandemic’s many challenges.  

The story is an uncommonly good one.  In 2020, the campus’ 20 employers added 194 jobs, a 13% increase.  Seven experienced double-digit increases in employment.

Collectively, the payroll grew to $127 million with average annual earnings over $77,000.  An estimated $2.8 million in local tax revenue fed a stronger tax base.  Our local governments took less a financial hit compared to their statewide peers as a result.

We all have a role in industrial development.  Thus, I’m pondering what actions our community can take to keep this success story successful going forward.  Here’s my top three:

Ramp up pre-employment training.  The pandemic proved that critical industry jobs make for good careers.  Manufacturing has long proven to be the highest paying in Ohio.  There will be more job opportunities.  Despite a robust 2020, 60% of the companies on the Port Authority campus report expecting employment to go up in 2021. 

A growing pool of job seekers is critical to future growth.  In 2020, C-TEC EDGE gave over 100 people a chance to gain a manufacturing certification.  It is good news that C-TEC is setting an example for all of Ohio, continuing this model effort with another class this Summer.

Encourage critical industry competitiveness.  Capital investment in the past has been part of making this sustained growth possible now and into the future.  You incentivize what you want.  Strategically, we need to encourage more investment by critical industries, like manufacturing. 

The Port Authority signed a long-term lease extension with Boeing that represents a capital investment commitment over $25 million.  It could grow four-fold.  The extension sends a strong message back of greater economic stability for the workforce and our community.

Invest in growth-producing infrastructure. The manufacturing sector benefits from roadway investments which improve access.  It’s significant, also, when personnel commutes are made safer and shorter.

The Thornwood Crossing bridge project is an example.  The bridge project is critical and rightly being advanced by Newark.  Sitting where it does at the northern end of the largest manufacturing corridor in Central Ohio, it’s not only a bridge that needs fixed but one that can serve as a bridge to growth too. 

As we emerge from this worldwide pandemic, Ohio can emerge stronger thanks to manufacturing.  Licking County is proof.  Count me grateful to our manufacturers.  Let us keep this comeback story going!


This development column is a monthly column in The Advocate

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