Economic Development

Manufacturers Coalition Praised as Model for State

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CANFIELD, Ohio – The Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition is an initiative whose success is unmatched in Ohio, says the president of one of the largest trade groups in the state that wants to see this success spread.

“There’s nothing like it in the state of Ohio, not even close,” Eric Burkland, president of the Ohio Manufacturers Association told the coalition at its quarterly meeting at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center Friday. “Nobody has put together a model like you have.”

This year, Burkland said, he plans to work with his membership and its partners to apply the MVMC model throughout the state to better address Ohio manufacturers’ concerns.

“The fact that the MVMC is manufacturing-led allows manufacturers to express their needs throughout the community,” he said. Also, the MVMC template shows the way for various stakeholders — education and training providers, for example – to sit at the same table and hammer out shared strategies, he noted.

By far, the greatest issue facing producers across the Buckeye State is the shortage of skilled workers in industry, Burkland said. “The problem we have is largely demographic,” he said, referring to the high retirement rate of baby boomers in the industrial trades and the lack of younger people qualified to fill these positions.

These positions require more technical knowledge than ever before, Burkland added, and praised the MVMC for doing a great job in engaging both the educational and manufacturing communities to prepare young people to acquire these skill sets.

“Your peers around the state don’t know how to do what you’re doing,” Burkland said. “So, you’re sort of the teaching lab for the rest of the state.” The next step will be to conduct a series of regional meetings that include an abstract on the MVMC model.

“Hopefully, I’m able to visit you next year and we’ll have some MVMCs across the state,” Burkland said.

The manufacturers coalition was formed six years ago to help the region’s manufacturing base address the skills gap within the industrial workforce. Manufacturers, with the cooperation of trade schools, high schools, Eastern Gateway Community College, Youngstown State University, Kent State University Trumbull campus, and workforce development agencies have attracted millions of dollars in grants directed to apprenticeship and internship programs.

This year, the organization’s apprenticeship program – in its second year — added 14 for a total of 40 participants, the group learned.

On Feb. 2, a partnership led by the YSU Research Foundation, announced it had received a $200,000 grant from Detroit-based Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow, or LIFT, a sister advanced manufacturing hub to America Makes in Youngstown.

The grant would be used to move forward a plan to create what is tentatively called the Innovation & Commercialization Center, said Mike Hripko, foundation president and associate vice president for research at YSU. The project has also received $3 million in support from the state capital budget.

The project’s partners include Eastern Gateway, Choffin Career & Technical Center, Columbiana Career & Technical Center, STEM Academy, Youngstown City Schools, the Youngstown Business Incubator, and the city of Youngstown.

Hripko also credited the manufacturers coalition for its help in attracting the project.

In essence, the new center will serve as a “teaching factory” for students and companies can use to further product development and other ideas advance, Hripko said.

The partners are selecting a site and the project has applied for a grant through the Appalachian Regional Commission and is writing an application for a U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration grant, Hripko said. Other issues still must be worked out about intellectual property, liability issues, equipment ownership and certification processes.

“All of those complex questions have to be addressed before we open the door,” he said. “We continue to acquire advanced manufacturing equipment, but the challenging part is to stitch it all together.”

Hripko hopes to have additional information on a site and more details on the project in the next three months. “This organization — the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition – is the impetus behind this,” he said.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.