Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Tackling Workforce Issues, Together

 “Why would you want to do that?”  The question still lingers nearly 25 years later in my mind.  An Eastern Ohio restaurant owner uttered this statement to a business prospect looking to locate less than a mile away with 300 new jobs.  The guy didn’t kill the deal, but his remarks certainly didn’t help.

I have long subscribed to the concept that everyone has a role in economic development.  It’s not just elected officials and development administrators, but all of us who have a role in attracting and retaining jobs. 

As the nation collectively experiences a workforce challenge, the pivotal issue right now is the ability for a local community to prove it can find workers. Expansions by our existing companies and new investments to the area hang in the balance.  It’s in tackling workforce issues where future-changing investments will be won or lost.

Part of the workforce issue is a demographic one.  Retirements are outpacing new additions to the labor force. Ohio has watched the number of Ohioans who turn 65 grow from 19 per day in 2010 to five times that in recent years. 

Even though we may not realize it or believe it, Licking County employers enjoy a demographic advantage.  According to Ohio unemployment statistics, there are more people in our county labor force in April 2021 than there were in April 2019.  Few can say that.

I’m thinking about the roles for all of us to take, together, in our community in tackling workforce issues.

Nagging Parent: Chief among the reasons to be seeking a better job is that companies are hiring.  Parents, family, and friends of potential job seekers have a major role to play.  Manufacturing careers are among the highest-paying and, as the pandemic shows, the most stable and essential.  Manufacturers are hiring.  Don’t be shy.  Share the news.  Go ahead.  Nag.

Upskilling Encourager:  At a time like now where job seekers have a decided advantage across from the interview table, there is no better time to encourage our family members and friends to up their skills.  Industrial maintenance is a big one to consider.

Credential Seeker:  Companies in Licking County are offering their existing employees a chance to gain credentials through Ohio’s TechCred program, for example.  C-TEC soon offers another round of pre-employment manufacturing certifications with scholarships available to those who seek it out early.

Industry has the biggest roles.

Intentional Partner:  Industry in Licking County needs to join forces to make their workforce demands intentional and known.  Partner with OhioMeansJobs Licking County to conduct targeted job fairs and then promise to hire from those who turn out.  C-TEC can attract more to its credentialing programs if those students know successful credentialing translates to a clear chance at a better job.

Retention Focuser:  A recent Chamber of Commerce gathering of manufacturers was right on with a concept that hit close to home.  One company shared, while others nodded in agreement, that the focus needs to be on retaining existing employees.   It is time to reexamine payroll and human resources policies that aren’t competitive.

No economy churns like this forever.  The pent-up demand from the pandemic will run its course, in time.  Let’s not wait for a recession to solve these workforce issues.

There’s a lot of chatter about workforce issues right now.  Let’s tackle them with action.  Together.


This development column is a monthly column in The Advocate.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Column Paused

This column is on a pause.

Please find the archives for the perspective on manufacturing and growth in Ohio.

Miss the weekly commentary?  Weekly LinkedIn posts and regular Twitter posts are an option.

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