What Are We Doing to Plug the Brain Drain?

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The Business Journal: The Business Journal’s Brain Gain program started in October. Our mission is to promote workforce development and to create a culture of entrepreneurship. How is your organization involved in workforce and entrepreneurship development?  

Jim Ritter, Kent State University, Champion: I’ll start by saying we have a couple of workforce development programs specifically for companies. For example, Davey Tree. We have an environment management program just for the Davey Tree employees. 

It’s actually for anyone who has a green certificate; however, it’s mostly Davey Tree employees who have that green certificate. They use that and get credits for an associate degree in environment management. 

The same is true for First Energy. We have an associate degree, associate of technical study where they do a practicum. When they graduate; they’re not guaranteed a job with First Energy. But the reality is 99% of those graduates have gotten a job with First Energy.

Anna Marie Vaughn, Columbiana County Educational Service Center: We have been working very closely with our business partners through our business advisory council. We have found that they have taken two paths, both the long-term look by  working with our elementary students, exposing them to opportunities out there, as well as exposing our tenth graders to the short-term opportunities.  Congressman [Bill] Johnson [R-6 Ohio] sponsored a Manufacturing Your Future event in October. About 80 tenth graders attended. They had an opportunity to go to manufacturing sites and be exposed to what’s out there.

Because they don’t know what manufacturing is today. They think of it in terms of that and what it was when their parents worked. So another one of our initiatives is to look at how we can educate parents, and bring them into the fold, and understand what manufacturing is today. That’s a huge initiative for us. 

Julie Needs, Sustainable Opportunity Development Center:  At the SOD Center, we put in a workforce development training center in 2018. We’re trying to help employers fill some gaps with training.

We don’t want to overlap what higher education is doing. We want to fill some areas for growth within the companies for those who may move into supervisor roles, or those in need of professional development, or some basic computer skills to grow within the company.  So it’s more the incumbent worker we’re working with. 

And some are young, right out of high school, students who have gone into a manufacturing career, and aren’t sure where they belong, but want to grow with the company. So we’re providing those types of things, and meeting the needs of the employers by asking them what they need. What do their employees need?

Matthew Bowen, Campbell City Schools: As far as workforce development, a lot of things that we’re doing are unique. And not only to Campbell, but I think necessary to fill that gap that exists in the state. So often we look at workforce development, and parents and young people are thinking that it’s more of a hands-on type of training, earning a credential.

And there’s that gap that exists throughout the state in all public education, and education across the board for that matter. And it’s a very talented group of young people that don’t understand what advanced manufacturing looks like and feels like.

We’re blending our workforce development with more career-tech type pathways. We work very closely with the Mahoning County Career & Technical Center to where we have a very high percentage of students who attend  MCCTC – and they do very well – but then we have a population of students who are in the middle.

We’re blending those higher education opportunities with more of a pre-apprentice program in the most in-demand jobs that exist in our area.  That way we can recruit, and retain, and also promote future business and industry to choose our area where we have that ready workforce.

In this area there is that gap. That’s why we have some incredible partnerships. And we have some partners in higher education who understand what that missing link may be.

The Business Journal to Steve Davenport: You have a unique perspective as an employer.

Steve Davenport, chief operating officer, The Surgical Hospital at Southwoods: We do. Health care opens up two opportunities. One, we have clinical pathways everybody associates with health care. We’ve got nursing, advanced practice nursing, the training of future doctors with our residency affiliation.

So we’ve reached out to local universities. For instance, Youngstown State;  we have affiliation with their nursing program. We have affiliations with other universities such as Gannon and LECOM {Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine] that also provide us with opportunities to attract residents and advanced practice nurses into training programs, and then allow them to experience what it is to deliver health care in this environment.  

The flip side of that coin is the whole business side of health care where we are now collecting data at probably the fastest rate that we’ve ever done through the installation of electronic medical records. And the government is pushing us into quality programs. What we’re finding as our challenge is having business analysts to do something with that data that’s meaningful. It has been a real challenge for us. 

And so we have groomed former nurses who have gone from the clinical side of delivering bedside care, to getting them into the quality metrics and business analytics on the clinical side, and have trained them. 

But we’re also continually looking for those skilled positions. That can be anything from business analytics to quality metrics to programming to try to extract information from our electronic medical records, and try to do something meaningful with it.

Brian Benyo, Brilex Industries, Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition:  The theme of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition is around workforce. The initiatives that we have brought forth have made a difference. We’ve really impacted the training centers throughout the tri-county area, particularly at the career and tech-center level. We have seen a real willingness to bring those programs to current needs, meeting the needs of manufacturers.

The initiatives to bring in outside funding from the federal and state governments have been very impactful in raising the capacity of training here.  The other thing that we’ve attempted to do is to standardize that training to where we’ve got an outcomes-based focus where we’re not just looking at offering programs. Rather, we’re validating the skill sets coming out of those programs by adopting industry-recognized credentials and bringing everybody along at a high level.

That’s been very impactful, and we’re definitely seeing the benefits of that. Where we continue to fall short is on recruitment.  As mentioned, it’s being recognized that not all students are going to track into a four-year college education.  

Mike Hripko, associate vice president, Youngstown State University: The university certainly is working with the manufacturers. They’ve really elevated the awareness that it’s more than just an academic degree that’s going to serve candidates well in their careers. Some hands-on training to go with that is very important.

And as we look at these in-demand jobs in our Valley, petrol chemicals, additive manufacturing, electric vehicles and batteries – those are the ones grabbing the headlines.

We also have a prominent opportunity in logistics now with developments in the Lordstown area. We’re seeing an academic program that features not only classroom learning and traditional testing and so forth, but also applications, internships, co-ops, capstone projects that show an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge in industrial settings. That combination makes a graduate very, very effective. 

It’s true in business. It’s true in health care. It’s true in all the disciplines. The more we can get our students out into the workforce earlier to experience what those opportunities are, the better their future employment will be, and the more effective they’re going to be as employees. 

Arthur Daly, vice president, Eastern Gateway Community College: We all have the same theme of keeping the credentials out there, the certifications. And we’re all doing that in a way that is becoming more and more impactful. 

Twenty years ago, all we did was talk about how everybody needs a four-year degree. Now that mindset is, “OK, I still need a four-year degree. But wait a second, if I can get a credential, whether it be in health care, whether it be in the industrial setting or manufacturing.” Now, all of a sudden, these are game changers for people that don’t want to go on to a four-year degree.

But we have a pathway for that. So that’s what we’re doing – we’re developing those pathways.  Get your credentials, get your certifications, then you have a skill.

Now you have a pathway to an associate’s degree.  We have stackable credentials. Then we’ll go to the bachelor’s degree and beyond. We, as educators, are changing the way we’ve taught individuals, that they think they have to go the bachelor’s route right away.

We know that is a failed option for many folks.  They come back, and they ask, “What’s my next option?” 

Apprenticeship programs, working with the Manufacturers Coalition, working with health care providers – maybe it’s a one-year program, or six-month program to an STNA [state-tested nurse’s aide] that leads to an LPN [licensed practical nurse], that leads to an RN [registered nurse].  

All of us are piecing that together as we go forward and having these little pods of places people can go. And they can start working right away.  Once they start working, they  have the opportunity to go back and continue their education; that’s what we’re developing in with our programs.

John Zehentbauer, superintendent, Mahoning County Career & Technical Center and Choffin: It’s amazing how many programs and projects that we have going. But I’d like to focus on two: the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition and the partnership with Youngstown State.

We just received the Rapids [Regionally Aligned Priorities in Delivering Skills] grant, which is going to help us expand in the manufacturing area, both at Choffin and at the Mahoning Career Center. Not only that, but our adult ed is going to expand into robotics, additive manufacturing, the electronic vehicles, and hopefully provide a lot of services. 

That partnership is knocking down walls, and reaching out into Columbiana County, now with a regional fire training center. 

University Hospitals is entering the picture with us, and a lot of partners, which will be an interesting expansion to the Mahoning Valley. They already do our paramedics program. 

At Choffin we have LPN; we have surgical tech. We’re continuing to expand. They’re very well-enrolled. We’re working with Kent State Salem and Kent State East Liverpool to form articulations. 

We also have a STEM school and are partnering with those folks. So it’s been a really good time to be in career tech. 

The Business Journal: The YWCA perspective is different because you’re working with a different population. 

Leah Merritt, CEO, YWCA of the Mahoning Valley: As a community-based organization, we see people throughout the continuum of their life cycle.  We believe that learning begins at birth, and really it begins before birth with a healthy pregnancy, and stable housing, and all of those things. 

In regards to workforce development, we’re proud to partner with Sen. Sherrod Brown, [D-Ohio] Oh, Wow! and the Manufacturers Coalition to make sure that our youth are prepared for those living-wage jobs. I’m so glad to hear of all the credentialing, and the pathways, and making sure that our kids are ready for this, because this is where the living-wage jobs are. And we continue with job skills, resume building for that middle-age to later-age population. 

To retain our youth, we need living-wage jobs and those pathways for them. In workforce development, we think of high school.  I know some initiatives are coming into middle and elementary schools.

We’re happy to provide Y Girls STEAM Ahead, and focus on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Within that, we are doing the NFTE program, which is the network for teaching the entrepreneurial mindset. Whether you’re going to start your own business or work for someone else, it’s very important. Those skills are transferrable, and creativity that goes along with that.  

The Business Journal:  How are you coordinating your efforts?  What type of success are you having?  And how do you measure it?  

Daly, EGCC: With a community college, our branches go to every institution and every business that’s here. We have relationships with the employers. What we’re seeing, though, is a lot of kids come through, depending on who you are; some want to stay; their families keep some here. We can track that.

But a lot of them want to go out first. They want to go to a different city.  They want to experience other things. And then once their family life changes, it seems they come back. They want to come back to where their roots are.  No matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, there’s still going to be a group of kids who want to leave. and then at some point maybe we can bring all those skills that they have acquired back to our area. 

Hripko, YSU: When I walked in this morning, I said more “Nice to see you again,” than “Nice to meet you.” We know one another. On this side of the table, many of us are regularly engaged, and updating on what we’re doing, making sure the puzzle pieces fit, making sure that there is alignment. There are difficult challenges certainly to achieve that alignment, but it’s not for lack of trying. And it’s not for lack of awareness that it needs to be done.

Ritter, KSU Trumbull:  I would like to hear from the employers, because the ultimate test is: Are graduates getting jobs with employers? And are they getting those jobs and filling those needs that employers are looking for?

Davenport, Southwoods: A lot of the youth that I have intermingled with, and a lot of what we’re seeing is that people are still looking at a four-year degree as being one of the primary tracks to where their future is headed. Right now we have so many opportunities within health care that do not require a four-year degree.

There is a lack of career preparation and exposure in high school that’s starts in their junior and senior years. [School staffs] could have done a better job of career counseling and getting them exposed to certain jobs that do not require a four-year degree. … There is this pathway, this progressive, lifelong learning process, and we need to get them interested. 

We have had surgical techs that require two years of training that have gone on to say, “Boy, I love assisting the surgeon in surgery, but I would like to do more independent work”; and then they pursue an RN degree, which is a four-year degree.

Many of those nurses have gone on to do advanced-practice nursing, which is like being a physician assistant or a nurse practitioner. That allows them then to add on two more years of education, and then they can practice more independently.

That whole series starts with the first domino. Not what your job is going to look like 10 years from now, but getting that start. Because a lot of students are saying, “To think about a five- or six-year degree, that’s overwhelming.”  

But if you get them started and show them, “Go into the shallow end of the pool, and start your education, because whether you go to the one-foot mark, or the 10-foot mark, or the 100-foot mark, there are things you can do to be very productive and helpful to employers like us.” 

It really starts with counselors at the high school level getting them exposed to the many opportunities available, and then pairing their educational opportunities with those varying levels of involvement. 

The Business Journal:  You make an interesting point, because much of the focus of our Brain Gain coverage has been on manufacturing, the skilled trades and not health care; yet health care is the fastest-growing industry.

Davenport, Southwoods:  When you look at our demographics, we have more people who are going to be 60 and above than 60 and under. Our demographics are definitely going in that direction.  And right now there are things that we’re struggling with.  We really have very few job openings at Southwoods going unfilled. But if we look at those jobs that take us longer to fill, they are things like the surgical techs, medical assistants, central sterile processing technicians. Those are the jobs very important to us that do not require a four-year degree, but seem to be lagging in terms of people entering them. 

The Business Journal:  Maybe you need a health care coalition like the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers. 

Davenport, Southwoods:  It would be very helpful.  Because 10 years ago they were talking about the nursing shortage.  We have a shortage of nurses. And then a lot of people decided to go into nursing programs. Now advanced practice nurses and RNs are fairly well-developed. They’re easy to get. It’s just that they’re not viewed as sustainable career paths.  

Bowen, Campbell City Schools: In this room we’re thinking about not the now, not next year, but what’s it look like in five years? And that’s what we have to plan for is five years hence. And even beyond. 

Some of the things we’re doing we feel are effective. If you look at the students we serve, we serve some incredibly talented youth. But they need the additional support they’re not receiving in their home environments. There’s no secrets here.

We have a diverse, high-poverty population that we serve. We also have a lot of students who are coming over – English language learners learning the language for the very first time. We’re offering the early STEM experience starting in kindergarten through six. And they will scale at a higher rate next year with the public library’s involvement.

That’s one of the [library’s] models within the new facility  being built. But it’s that continuum where they can enter a program in middle school. We’re changing the conversation. It’s not about graduation being the goal, but how are you going to be contributing to society?  How are you going to earn that job?  How are you going to be successful in life?  So it’s really changed conversation, and it’s caused the education and the curriculum to evolve.

Now we have those partners who understand their needs, but they also understand our needs to make sure that we have that emerging population ready to go.

Looking at the high school curriculum, we’re flipping the script. We’re looking more at that block to where students can earn their high school diploma early. They’re actually going to meet their high school graduation requirements by the end of their sophomore year. 

That can be accomplished in any district throughout the state if you look more at a block schedule. That doesn’t mean in junior and senior years the students should have early release and go home early. That means it creates opportunities to where we flip the script.

Now we’re not talking about K through 12.  We’re talking about K-14. This is not the first state having that conversation – there are other states that have more of a K-14 model. 

That creates those pre-apprentice, those job-shadowing, those early career credential type opportunities for our youth where they’re not sitting in traditional seats doing things the traditional way. We have to evolve in education to better serve our population, that being our students, but grow our economy as well.

Needs, SOD Center: Interesting what Steve had to say, and we have this conversation quite a bit with our manufacturers. Our two largest industries in Salem are health care and manufacturing; so we have the conversation on both sides of the table. It’s finding a way to educate the students early, and get them engaged with visits.

Can they get into a shorter-term program where they find they’re not interested or want to take a different pathway before they’ve committed themselves to a university or a college where they have built up debt? They decide ‘This is it,” and they’re going home. That’s then we lose them.

So how can we get them into those programs? And also educating the piece that when we want them to come home? 

We’ve had this conversation. We had a roundtable with five of our local manufacturers.  Their biggest issue is: “I have available jobs not in manufacturing that I can’t fill. I need an accountant. I need a salesman. I need a general manager.” These are high-paying positions, and they can’t find the people to fill them. How do we get the youth engaged in that? 

We are a heavily manufacturing community, but that doesn’t mean you have to be working on the floor. There are very different levels of positions within that manufacturing facility.  And it’s educating students at an early age through their high school careers that those jobs exist. And they’re right here.

Vaughn, Columbiana ESC: We also work closely with the SOD Center. But a lot of our business partners have been focusing on the elementary schools to identify the passion that kids might find. They don’t know what’s out there.

And so when we have authentic problems brought to them by the manufacturers or the business partner – and we’ve had a number of these where they come in with a problem to present to students. They’re subject-matter experts. They come into the schools. They work with the elementary students.

 On Thursday [March 12]we’re going to have two of the celebrations of learning, where the manufacturers or the business partner and the students will present their solutions to an authentic problem.

Third- and fourth-graders get real excited about having helped a business identify how they can solve a problem. Whether that’s going to be their passion in life is not an issue. That they’re enthusiastic and they’re finding a passion is what’s important. 

The Business Journal: We know that the population here is older and that the birth rate is down. We have two problems. We have a smaller population. We also have a high rate of poverty and severe socioeconomic issues that affect the entire workforce.  How do we get around that? How do we deal with that? 

Daly, EGCC: There are so many things to say on this topic. We have partnered with the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition in the Work Advance program. We know there’s a large underserved population that is community-based, that is tied to the MYCAPs and the Goodwill Industries. What we have done is partner with those community agencies, [Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Program] and Goodwill specifically. 

They know where those underserved populations are, whether they’re underemployed, whether they’re unemployed. We bring them in, and we sit them down, and vet them through a process that says, “OK, what are the barriers you face?  What are the things that we can help you with?”

Then they engage in a very long, extended process. …

Then in comes the Manufacturers Coalition as a partner and they say, “We’re going to train you in a specific skill.” For our purposes, let’s say this specific skill is machining. Nordson Corp. has stepped up, and is part of this work advance program where all of these individuals that you’re working with right now, we’re going to train them in machining.

So here comes Eastern Gateway, “We train you as a machinist.”

You get the basic credentials in machining. Once the vetting process is done, they come to Eastern Gateway, and Nordson then pays their wages while they’re training.

It’s, like, $10 an hour, somewhere in that ballpark. They’re paid for that training. Could be 16 weeks, could be 12 weeks. It depends on the program.  Once that is done, MYCAP and Goodwill Industries provide wrap-around services, breaking down any barriers that may arise.  

Because we know if something happens once, they’re done. Right? So MYCAP and Goodwill do wrap-around services while they’re training, and then Nordson interviews these individuals and hires them at $18, $19 an hour.  Don’t quote me on the wages, but they’re somewhere close to that.  Sustainable living wages. 

In theory, it’s a wonderful thing. And it’s worked. But the best part is for the next 12 months the wrap-around services still exist. Goodwill and MYCAP continue the service. They go out to the facility once a month, sometimes twice at the beginning, maybe three times a month, until they can let that person go. They know that any issues or barriers that they may face are gone.

We’ve done this twice with the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition and Nordson. The success rate has been astronomical. The first group we started with 12. Ten got hired at Nordson; two dropped off. Those 10 are still there.

The second group was 15. They hired 12 of those individuals and they are still working at Nordson.  It’s a work advance partnership that, through the Mahoning Valley Manufacturing Coalition – and I want to give a shout out to Jessica Borza {MVMC executive director] because she brought that concept here. Now we’re working on it, not only with more manufacturers, but in the health care industry as well. Because we know there’s a population that the YWCAs and the YMCAs work with and the community agencies work with these people every single day.

How do we serve them? We have Work Advance.  We have a partner that pays. Everybody has to have a vested interest in this. And now Nordson doesn’t need nearly as many machinists. Their turnover rate has dropped. They have a quality workforce in place, and a feeder system.  If they do lose somebody, they have another process to bring new groups in. 

The Business Journal:  The brain drain in our community is not just our best and brightest leaving; it’s underemployed people.

Daly, EGCC:  Absolutely. 

Merritt, YWCA:  Definitely.

Ritter, Kent State: The key word, common denominator here, is exposure. We need to expose students of all types to the many opportunities so they are aware of the possibilities.  Often. they think, “I can’t do this.”  But they don’t know all the possibilities out there.

We have a program called STEM TC, STEM Trumbull County, STEM Trumbull Campus.  It used to be girls in STEM. It brings high school sophomores to the campus, and they learn from about 12 speakers of the many opportunities in the medical field.  And we bring in a fairly well-known keynote speaker.

We once brought in the president of NEOMED.  And so they learn about all the possibilities out there.  But we need to go further than that; we need to have one for manufacturing.

We have something similar to STEM TC in the manufacturing field, letting high school freshmen and sophomores know the opportunities available in manufacturing, not just on the manufacturing floor, but in accounting. And in business. And in sales. 

Merritt, YWCA: I would like to add to the equity piece. The wrap-arounds are critical. We need to think about people who are too poor to be employed. They might not have transportation. They might not have suitable work clothes or tools. And these are just some of the barriers.

If we can address those barriers and make the playing field more level, then they can move forward and get a living wage, be able to afford decent, quality housing, and provide a good opportunity for that next generation.

Zehentbauer, MCCTC & Choffin:  To that point, like that wrap-around piece, we’ve tried to track that.  And how do you show success?  Is it working?

We have always tracked every kid. We’ve got a thousand students between STEM and the other students.  We hired a student wellness and achievement coordinator. We realized everything with achievement, whether it’s credentials, whether it’s placement, is a tie to [student] wellness, which was a piece largely ignored several years ago. Whether it’s health, whether it’s a kid who needs a pair of glasses, whether they’re in foster care – we have 25 foster care kids – and we didn’t realize they have no family.  We realized they have no family support.  But now this person’s sole purpose is … we put together a tracker with many columns that show every visit to a health care coordinator, their doctor visits, everything.

We’ve talked to their parents and their foster care, and they have allowed us to do that, to step in and be that surrogate parent. Because we realized that probably 20% to 30% of the kids were getting all the credentials, but they were failing on the wellness and social end.

Now we have an in-house counselor to whom we can refer all of that. That’s been a tremendous boost.

Vaughn, Columbiana ESC: One thing that we’ve been focusing on is student voice. We survey our students: seventh-, ninth- and tenth-graders every two years all across the county. About 2,400 students do an attitudes and behavior survey. And it gives us data about what the students think about their lives, their neighborhoods, their communities, their support systems. 

We have been using that to identify.  We can’t ask schools to do it all, because schools can’t do it all. But if we can identify community and neighborhoods that can support students, that gives us a wealth of information to try to identify why students aren’t being successful.

To your point in terms of every student needs to be safe, healthy, and achieving, because if you don’t remove the barriers to success, whatever they might be, they’re not going to achieve. If they’re not safe, if they’re not healthy, chances are they’re not going to achieve.  

Bowen, Campbell City Schools:  We [Campbell] have been very blessed. We participate at the state level with the student wellness and success fund. We sit on that committee as part of the Campbell City Schools.

It’s that equity-driven language you hear at the state level.  A lot of the things that we’re learning, that we’re doing, talks about these placement behaviors. Often it’s not enough to just tell children no.  We have to talk about what are the things that you can do?  What can you do well?

And give the students a reason to say no.  So that’s twofold. One, it’s very, very important  to make sure that you have people aligned, to make sure opportunities exist for students so they understand what their futures look like. We appreciate all the site visits, and the individuals who come in and talk to our kids each and every day.

But at the same time, we have United Way, which has been key to our success. They do that early learning piece, and now the Mahoning Valley College Access Program is doing that secondary piece for our students, making sure that we leverage those career counselors so they’re talking to students.

Last, there are things we need to do. When we’re talking to kids, we’re talking more about what they can’t do more than what they can do. This really talks about what children can do. And when students understand what they can do, and we focus on their strengths and what they can do, we’re changing the conversation. We’re focusing on their futures at a higher level. 

Daly, EGCC: When we talk about barriers, I want to make one more mention. We have partnered with the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio, with Strimbu Trucking and some of the other technical schools, and Hope CAD in Pennsylvania. It’s called the LIFT program.

When you mentioned about somebody who has two jobs while they’re going to school, there is funding now through this LIFT program at the community foundation. Say an individual has the two-job scenario – and is an example of someone who’s going to get a medical assisting degree. But she has this barrier: she’s missing school; she can’t make it because she’s got two jobs.  The funding pays her wages the entire way through until she finishes her program.

I want to make sure that everybody is aware of this. The LIFT program is new, and it’s something that will benefit and break down those barriers that a lot of these folks get into.

They have to be enrolled in school.  But the most important thing is it covers child care, transportation expenses, qualified household expenses.  So I encourage everyone to look for the LIFT program, at the Community Foundation at Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. 

Ritter, Kent Trumbull:  It’s funny you mention the strength quest, because we give all of our incoming students that assessment.  Because we realized – like all colleges, we give them a placement assessment, measure their math, reading and English. The first thing we tell them is if you need help in math, or English, or reading. And then we said, What if we turn the tables, show them their strengths, and tell them, here’s what you’re good at, here are some areas to look at for a career based on your strengths? And not talk about their weaknesses. 

Bowen, Campbell City Schools: There is a brief survey we can employ for very young children.  The full survey is the same one we’re going to start using with our students. All of our adults – and we’re going to encourage all of our partners within our state that do this so we can identify the strengths of our students.

Because there are different attributes. Has anyone ever done it the way students understand who they are, so when they’re working in that group, it’s not about finding who you are like. It’s trying to find that group where you can collaborate and work effectively.

We cannot wait for the students to be employed to go through this exercise.  Students need to know more about themselves early versus late. 

Benyo, Brilex Industries, Manufacturers Coalition:  One thing that comes through as a common thread is a lot of things are happening to change the brain drain in this region. A lot of it is local.  The collaboration that we have here today didn’t exist five and 10 years ago. It did not exist.

The isolation of education from the workplace, the initiatives from the state level have been very impactful.  And in the last five years we have seen a major awakening at the state level that occupational considerations need to start early on. They need to be intentional. 

We need to be creative.  So a lot of the things that hamper our region are changing, driven by local initiative as well as the state level.

And the other thing I hear here is recognition.  Brain drain isn’t about the highest education levels.  It’s a holistic reality. As an employer, and as a business owner here, we need all facets of the workforce to thrive. It can’t be one element of it.

If you don’t have the people to do certain aspects of the business, you can’t support other aspects of the business.  It needs to be holistic. So I am encouraged as I sit here and listen to the awareness, and some of the things that are taking place right in front of us that will change this.

The brain drain is young people don’t leave necessarily because there are better opportunities outside this area.  Some do.  But a lot leave because there aren’t opportunities. And that starts to change when businesses see an opportunity to expand and invest. And that’s taking place. 

Hripko, YSU: We’re not the only community to experience this. I was in Dayton at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base two weeks ago, and they said they have 15,000 employees eligible to retire.  Send your students to Wright-Pat for jobs. And while we won’t discourage that, if we’ve got great young people here, we’d like to retain them in the Mahoning Valley, especially with the imminent opportunities we see on the horizon and to serve our existing manufacturers.

It’s a seller’s market when it comes to education.  We have to attract these students, not only with great job opportunities and career opportunities, but also a lifestyle, a quality of life, an infrastructure that is appealing to a new generation of young people.

In Youngstown, for example, we’re putting in a bike trail. It’s not for me. I’m done biking. It’s to attract and retain our students, get them into Mill Creek Park. We put in an amphitheater in Warren, and many other recreation and entertainment venues. Because those are what today’s young professionals, young worker, find appealing. And so we just have to remember our entire quality of life, and that we are competing for these brains. 

Daly, EGCC: Columbiana has been deemed friendliest place in the United States. Right? We talk about those things that keep people around here. The more we market the positive – because we don’t do a very good job of marketing ourselves otherwise.  If we did that, we would keep more people here.

The Business Journal:  In the student panels that Jeremy Lydic and Lisa Solley have conducted with middle school and high school kids, they don’t like the way the area looks. They don’t like the dilapidated buildings, the poor roads, pollution, the condition of the environment, not just globally. They want to live someplace that looks good. How do we get our leaders – and this is such a large issue, too, because it goes to the national infrastructure. How do we get our leaders to understand, and the public to understand, that this is a big part of keeping our people here?

Needs, SOD Center: In Salem – because we’ve had this conversation with the students — it was like, “OK, maybe I can put this matter in front of them, and they’re going to hear the students finally.”

It’s bringing the students to city council and telling city council why they don’t want to be in Salem, and why they’re moving away.  

I can preach it. And we’re writing an economic development plan right now for the city, and a lot of this is in there. 

Because when we try to attract new companies – and if you look at what site selectors are looking for, workforce is up there – but you’ve got to have the quality of life, because of who they’re trying to attract is not the 60-year-old person in your community. It’s the young people that move here and want to live here. It’s communicating that.

 But as much as we communicate it, leadership has to understand it and see it for what it is.  That historic – kids don’t want to hear the word “historic” – Salem has a beautiful history, but that doesn’t matter to the kids.

The Business Journal:  They want to know they have a future.

Ritter, Kent Trumbull: Sometimes we think too much on a grand scale. We think we have to get a grant to do this, a grant to do that. In Trumbull County, we have Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership. It’s all at the grassroots level. They go around cleaning up Trumbull County. It’s had tremendous value for our residents.

The Business Journal:  There’s a great deal of grassroots leadership across the Mahoning Valley with the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation – another example – and a lot of it is coming up from the neighborhoods.

Bowen, Campbell City Schools:  I’m going to take off my Campbell hat for a second.

When young families are choosing to come to the area, one of the first things they look at are the schools. So taking off my Campbell hat for a second, there are schools within our area – I think about Poland for one, I think about Canfield being another, with 100-year-old buildings.

But right now the money [$208 billion from the November 1998] tobacco settlement needs to be reformed. Reform with the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission money, and how they can create a better model for those school districts that still cannot pass the bond issues necessary to build new facilities in these communities.

The Business Journal:  There’s a leadership component that goes to the state and deals with the inequities of the property tax funding of schools, which has been an issue for 40 years. It has never been resolved. 

There is a leadership issue on the national level with the high student debt. So how do we get the people in this room to talk to the people who make those decisions? How do we get them on board with the Brain Gain, keeping our best and brightest here and bringing them home?

Merritt, YWCA: We need to identify parts of policy that we can disseminate, figure out what little steps we can take to have some wins, and get people used to realizing that connection from the policy level so that we’re addressing it when it impacts us. [Property tax based] school funding has been ruled unconstitutional [DeRolph v. Ohio, 1987] yet it continues. It makes for huge equity issues, especially in urban communities.

The Business Journal:  We’re running out of time. Some final thoughts? 

But first, some final thoughts from The Business Journal. For years we’ve heard about job candidates who can’t pass a drug test.  And there’s truth to that.  But what we’re hearing now is that transportation and other issues are bigger barriers. The WRTA has resolved some of that with its new services, so we’re hopeful about that. Now your final thoughts: How do we keep our young people here and bring them home? 

Merritt, YWCA: Just continue the collaboration and working together, because we all have a vested interest in our outcome. 

Zehentbauer, MCCTC & Choffin: Build the infrastructure to make it attractive to live in this area, first and foremost; and hopefully that will drive business and industry to want to be here, and do everything we can to encourage business and industry to come here and build here. 

Daly, EGCC: It’s about the infrastructure.  It truly is.  The more you talk about what goes on in an area and keeping people, it’s jobs, yes.  It’s education, yes.  But do I want to live here?  What makes me want to stay?  My house, my sidewalks, my road systems, the amenities I have. That’s what’s really going to drive a lot of those people to stay local. 

Hripko, YSU:  The Eastgate Regional Council of Governments is our metropolitan planning agency. It prepares a Community Economic Development Strategy, or CEDS. Our community has participated broadly in forming that strategy, and it comes down to three things: infrastructure, workforce and quality of life.  And those are the initiatives under which all of our efforts are following.

Benyo, Brilex, MVMC: You touched on the considerable collaboration that’s occurred at the workforce education level. Most of the discussion today has centered around that. But the question is: Do we have the political leadership in the Valley to address some of the Brain Gain issues, and change the landscape, and be intentional, and be collaborative to do that? That’s a question that bears answering, and maybe a suggestion of where you go from here, and how you further this discussion with some of our political leaders and create some of that momentum. 

Davenport, Southwoods:  I agree. There is a top-down approach, but there’s also a bottom-up approach. We have to get our kids excited about what Youngstown has to offer. 

Because when we look at that, they are so literal. When they look at Facebook, or Instagram, or whatever, they need to see a concise reason about why they should be excited about coming back to Youngstown. The Business Journal is hosting this event, and I think you do a good job of trying to tie in the good things, the positive things that are going on in the greater Youngstown area. When you look at that, our kids need to be excited about the great things the Youngstown Business Incubator does.

Look at the investments that Youngstown State has made to its STEM programs. Look at what the city is turning into. If you look at where we were 10 or 15 years ago, it’s on a much different trajectory than it was 20 years ago. If we could market to our kids like we do to our employers, they could get excited about the city they’ve grown up in.  

And yes, we are challenged. Some kids don’t want to be where their parents grew up because it’s not hip, it’s not cool. But they always come back. Why? Because the values are right here. The culture is right here. You can’t beat the cost of living. And if you combine all those things, and you have a good employment base, a training base, that becomes very compelling. 

Bowen, Campbell City Schools: If you look at Findlay, Ohio – they do an amazing job with marketing Findlay. And we have a lot of things to celebrate. We’re not driving those conversations. And we need to create these conversations in the schools, too.  

The Business Journal:  One of the things we learned from our student panel discussions is that they hear negativity about the area from their parents and grandparents.

Needs, SOD Center: Many of our students don’t know what Salem has to offer.  They don’t realize what is there, what’s made there, the interesting things – we have a company that makes a product for Amazon.  It’s one of Amazon’s largest suppliers, and it’s right there in Salem, but the kids don’t know it.

So it goes back to marketing, engaging the students early, and marketing from within and then out.  The students have the biggest voice, and they’re our social media experts. The more we can get them to promote the positive, the better off we are. 

Vaughn, Columbiana ESC:  Hopefully we’ve done a little bit of that, because we’re in our sixth year of having educators spend a week during the summer going to different businesses. They spend a day going through the business. We’re starting our sixth year. There are so many areas, as well as the historic areas in Columbiana County, that they have not been exposed to. 

Ritter, KSU Trumbull: One of the things that has not been mentioned here in accentuating the positive is diversity.  Diversity of our population, diversity of our jobs, diversity of our climate.  There’s a so much diversity in our area. That’s one of the positives.  

Pictured: John Zehentbauer makes a point during the roundtable March 10 at the Holiday Inn-Boardman. To his left is Leah Merritt from the YWCA. To his right are Art Daly from Eastern Gateway and Mike Hripko from YSU.