Columbiana County Seeks To Strengthen Ties Between Business, Education

SALEM, Ohio – Oil and gas business spurred from the Utica-Point Pleasant shale formation, South Field Energy’s electric generation plant in Wellsville, and Royal Dutch Shell’s cracker plant under construction in nearby Monaca, Pa., stand to have a major impact on Columbiana County’s economy, providing job opportunities for residents here, officials say.

Central to achieving this is building a skilled workforce by enhancing the relationship between local business, education, and economic development initiatives, says Tad Herold, economic development director for Columbiana County and chairman of the Columbiana County Business Advisory Council.

“Right now we have a core of about a dozen businesses, who have been very active at the business advisory council,” he said, noting he would like to see its ranks expand. “We’d like to see that be a dozen, two dozen or 50 because the more input we get from various sectors in various employers, the more responsive we will be to their needs.”

Herold says the business advisory council’s purpose is to see how schools can ensure they are meeting the needs of employers, providing them a trained workforce with in-demand skills.

The organization hosted a forum at Kent State University Salem Campus Thursday to encourage closer working relationships between business, education and economic development within the county to bolster the area workforce. Representatives from area schools, businesses, and representatives from the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6, attended.

Educators, businesses owners and other interested parties attended Thursday’s Columbiana County Business Advisory Council forum at Kent State Salem.

While there are no new multibillion-dollar projects bound for the county anytime soon, Herold says the region is preparing for smaller companies that use materials manufactured from these large projects – plastic pellets produced from Shell’s ethane cracker, for example, or low-cost energy from the Utica shale – to relocate to the region. 

“This is to make sure that the schools are providing the education and the students can stay in Columbiana County, earn a good living and help the employers make their product or do their service in such a way that we can be competitive,” Herold says.

Marie Williams, director of teaching and learning at the Columbiana County Education Service Center, said the council meets regularly and consists of those in school districts, members of the community and area business leaders. She added there are frequent conversations on how to bridge the gap between education and business. The student’s pathway to a college education after high school is not the only way to a higher paying career.

“We want to make sure that they know the different pathways that they can follow, the different job opportunities that are out there and the different resources that are out there,” Williams said.

Mark C. Perna, founder and CEO of TFS Results in Cleveland, spoke to the group remotely via Zoom. His company is a full-service strategic communications and consulting firm at the forefront of the national paradigm shift in education and workforce development.

He focused on topics such as changing landscape, younger generations, education with purpose, employment with passion, shifting the paradigm and taking action to empower the educators, business leaders and other stakeholders at Thursday’s forum. Perna’s goal was to connect the dots between education with purpose and employment with passion.

“The right student in any educational pathway or even in employment is the student who is motivated,” Perna said. “They’re dedicated. They see the light at the end of the tunnel for a program, pathway or class. They actually want to get there.” 

He addressed the 10.9 million open jobs nationwide – emphasizing a gap between those openings and those unemployed who cannot fulfill the requirements of those positions.

As of Thursday afternoon, OhioMeansJobs.com’s job board had 229,582 statewide openings with 5,191 jobs within 20 miles of Lisbon – encompassing Columbiana County.

Perna added there are three non-negotiables that academics must adopt to spur eventual workforce development within their students – robust academic knowledge, technical competencies and professional skills, and soft skills. He added work ethic, showing up on time, leadership, communication, work/life balance, stress management, critical thinking, problem solving, networking, flexibility, social and emotional intelligence should be stressed in a student’s learning process.

“I think they’re the darn-near most important things we can give our young people today,” Perna said. “Those professional skills are critical in order to be able to move forward.”

Those in elementary school can learn some of these through business collaboration with their respective schools – even with a career fair for kindergarten students, Williams said.

“We feel that the sooner we get to be students and start kind of talking about different career paths and different career ideas the better,” she said. 

Columbiana County schools have partnered with Humtown Products, Fresh Mark Inc., BrightPet Nutrition Group and Clear Creek Oilfield Solutions with different projects to spur workforce development, Williams said. Having businesses inside the schools, showing and talking about what they do could motivate these educational partnerships.

“The more that we can expose both students and teachers to all of the possibilities that are available the better,” she said. 

Pictured at top: Marie Williams and Tad Herold addressed those gathered at Thursday’s meeting for the Columbiana County ESC Business Advisory Council.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.