Ahead of JobsOhio Visit, Tressel Notes YSU’s Role

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown State University and other educational institutions can play an important role in supporting the  “extraordinary” potential that projects such as Lordstown Motors Corp. and the General Motors Co.-LG Chem battery plant represent for the Mahoning Valley, YSU President Jim Tressel said.

To that end, YSU is preparing to host JobsOhio, the private nonprofit entity that manages the state’s economic development efforts, for its quarterly board of directors meeting Thursday. 

JobsOhio recently decided to host public board meetings across the state ato draw attention to regional and local issues, said Matt Englehart, JobsOhio spokesman. 

“Northeast Ohio, and Youngstown specifically, was chosen several months ago as part of this strategy, so our entire board could get to the Mahoning Valley, better understand the challenges and opportunities there and be more informed in their position of oversight for JobsOhio,” Englehart explained. 

Among the opportunities the YSU president identified are Lordstown Motors, the GM battery plant, TJX Companies’ distribution center in Lordstown and petrochemical growth in the Ohio-Pennsylvania region. 

Tressel also pointed to work taking place at the Youngstown Business Incubator, Brite Energy Innovators, and America Makes. He praised YSU for pivoting toward additive manufacturing when America Makes was established iin 2012. 

When businesses are considering moving here or expanding, the first question typically asked is whether the community’s education partners – ranging from YSU and Eastern Gateway Community College to the technical centers and primary schools – can fill workforce needs, Tressel said. 

“My biggest focus is we’ve got to do a great job as a collective body of educators to make sure we’re preparing a workforce that will make those great opportunities,” he said. “I always say we’re not going to be short on opportunities in the future. Let’s make sure we can do our part of the deal.” 

The fields where Tressel sees the greatest job demand are information technology, advanced manufacturing, health care and hospitality. 

“We could turn out a thousand more engineers and they would be gainfully employed,” he said. 

Tressel sees YSU’s role as a business resource in two parts. First, it can prepare employees in business fields such as accounting, human resources and marketing, as well as in engineering and sciences.  Second, it could contribute to the research side of such companies. Students could solve problems as capstone projects, do prototype work with its advanced manufacturing capabilities and take on long-range research projects with Brite, for example. 

YSU is just now meeting with Lordstown Motors to discuss what the electrified-vehicle startup could need from YSU. It is “probably a bit early in the discussions in terms of what the GM-LG Chem battery plant is going to need,” he said.  

LG Chem has a battery plant in Holland, Mich., where it manufactures batteries for GM. Tressel anticipates visiting to “see what type of training we need to create here.” He also expects to visit a training center in Chattanooga, Tenn., which was designed by Richard Schmidt, operations manager for Lordstown Motors.

“We would love to become the electric vehicle center of the world,” he said. “That’s a lofty, audacious goal, but it will take everyone involved to take a run at that.”  

These opportunities present themselves at a time when higher education institutions face the prospect of declining enrollment. Over the past eight years, one study showed college enrollment nationwide has fallen about 11%. 

YSU’s fall enrollment was 12,155 students, compared with 12,696 in 2018. Tressel acknowledged he doesn’t expect enrollment to grow much. He also isn’t sure that such growth is absolutely necessary.  

“With technology being the way that it is, I think you’ll see universities certainly not growing in size but certainly rightsizing,” he said. 

YSU is participating in a strategic planning exercise, he continued.

The hope is that the new industries coming in can, perhaps over the next decade or so, make up for some of the major employment losses in recent years, including the shutdown of GM’s Lordstown Complex and Northside Regional Medical Center. 

JobsOhio’s presence this week represents a chance to celebrate the progress that’s been made and show YSU is available to work with the agency, Tressel said.

Thursday’s agenda is still being put together, but the recent announcements of Lordstown Motors and the GM-LG Chem battery plant will be part of the discussion, JobsOhio’s Englehart confirmed.

He expressed appreciation to YSU and Tressel “for allowing us a platform to discuss economic developments in the region so we can listen and better understand the best way to work in partnership with the northeast Ohio region and Mahoning Valley community to bring jobs, investment and growth.”

Tressel likewise said he appreciates the opportunity presented by the JobsOhio board visit, letting the public know the organization is working on their behalf and allowing them to offer comments, concerns and input. 

“It’s a healthy thing to do,” he said. 

Pictured: YSU President Jim Tressel will meet with officials from JobsOhio during the agency’s trip to campus Thursday.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.