Perfectly Positioned for Opportunity
Mathew Roberts Jun 27, 2014
Sheraton Hotel at Capitol Square 75 East State Street, Columbus, Ohio
Sun, Sep 21 8:00 AM
Mathew Roberts June 27, 2014
The overwhelming insight from this year’s annual State of the Region Conference revealed why Appalachia’s economic structure is perfectly positioned for a worldwide shift in the manufacturing sector. The businesses in this sector are facing many changes including meeting the demand to localize their supply chains, run parallel to a data-driven landscape, and managing rising utility costs while still taking advantage of the shale gas industry to cope with the overall costs of domestic manufacturing.
In conjunction with the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth and the Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the Economic Development Administration University Center at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs brought industry leaders from within and outside of the Appalachian region to examine manufacturing trends and discuss a “re-shoring” phenomenon of manufacturing firms coming back to the United States due to projected advantages in the future.
Matt S. Erskine, honored guest and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Development stated how we ought to learn from the stories of the global manufacturing market and introduced why these conferences would not be possible without the leadership and commitment of higher education leaders. “Higher education unites communities around issues of importance,” said Pat Benoit, Executive Vice President and Provost, “new forces are bringing manufacturing jobs back to the shore.” To date, the U.S. Economic Development Administration has invested $45 million in Ohio development and as a result brought 620,000+ jobs to Ohio over the past four years.
Though manufacturing production in Ohio ranks third in the country, there is an innovation imperative bonded to the Appalachian region as opportunity and challenges arise. “The rest of the world is playing a different game,” said keynote speaker Dr. Charles W. Wessner stressing the action of other countries’ willingness to prioritize extra support for universities, funding research for small business, and creating vital government-industry partnerships. Wessner added that while the United States’ major strength is 28% of the global R&D spending budget, not enough is being done to capitalize on building regional capacity and to collaborate on inevitable institutional change in the coming decades.
John Molinaro, President and CEO of the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth, highlighted how investing in the Appalachian region is becoming lucrative for investment because the area has “the right skills for the right price.” With 400 miles of Ohio River, road and rail assets, manufacturing in Appalachia seems like the perfect fit considering 60% of major U.S./Canadian markets are one truck-driver shift away which can drastically lower overall production costs. The skills and knowledge embedded in the region has helped stir many new opportunities to increase employment in Ohio’s primary manufacturing sectors including fabricated metals, transportation parts, plastics & rubber, machinery and food production.
A major challenge mentioned in the conference is keeping people who live in the region here for work. According to a presentation by Dr. Jason Jolley, Assistant Professor of Economic Development, for every one person who comes into the region to work, three people come out. Another challenge is addressing the labor force participation rate which is at its lowest rate since 1976 at just under 64 percent. As stressed throughout the conference, increased investment in universities and regional economic developments can help people find better jobs close to home and ease the demand to replace an aging workforce by engaging people early in their education to work in a promising manufacturing sector.