DeWine Touts Manufacturers Coalition as Model

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Ohio Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine had high praise for the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, calling it “a model for the country” for coordinating the needs of manufacturers with educational providers.

Aligning workforce training with the needs of companies was among the topics DeWine addressed on Monday during a visit to Taylor-Winfield Technologies Inc., where he discussed his campaign’s Ohio Prosperity Plan, met with reporters, took a brief plant tour and participated in a roundtable discussion.

Meeting with reporters just before touring the plant, DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, said the challenge Ohio faces today is making sure workers have the skillsets that employers need. Formed about seven years ago, the Mahoning Valley manufacturers Coalition, or MVMC, has done a “very good job” of meeting that objective locally, he said.

“They are becoming a model for the country in how business works with educators,” he said. He added that he wants to “take these ideas and spread them throughout the state of Ohio.”

The Ohio Prosperity Plan would establish regional job-training partnerships throughout Ohio with local businesses, education providers and community leaders.

The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association also looks to the work done by MVMC “as a model for solving” the problem presented by the lack of skilled workers in Ohio, said the organization’s president, Eric Burkland.

“The biggest issue facing Ohio manufacturers is workforce, the ability to recruit and develop talent in all areas of the business,” Burkland said. He characterized the shortage of workers as “nearly a crisis.”

There were two elements that were “very important” to achieving progress, said Dale Foerster, vice president of Starr Manufacturing Inc. in Vienna Township and MVMC president. The first was employers recognized that they had to be part of the solution and not just a “complaining entity,” she said. “We had to be leading the charge and not just waiting,” she continued.

The other factor was to stop blaming the educational system for not adapting to employers’ needs when employers weren’t communicating those needs to educators.

“We started off by blaming each other and pointing fingers at each other, and how we’ve come together over the last several years,” she said.

While ensuring students have the proper skills needed for the workplace is important, another issue facing employers is finding candidates for jobs who can pass drug tests.

“You’ve got people who cannot pass the drug test and cannot work in manufacturing. That’s a real drag on the economy as well as a great tragedy for those individuals and their families,” DeWine said.

The most important thing that can be done is to put “a real focus on education and prevention,” he said. DeWine touted a 12-point action plan to address the drug issue, including an anti-drug curriculum from kindergarten through grade 12.

The challenge of finding job candidates who can pass drug tests has become particularly acute over the past year and a half, Foerster said. Two out of every 10 job applicants fail drug tests, she reported. “It’s huge,” she said.

DeWine plans to expand efforts to target the Mexican drug cartels that are bringing drugs into the state, he said.

“We have a model that is working in a few areas but this model should be deployed in every single region of the state,” he said.

In addition, he said his proposed jobs plan would build on what President Donald Trump and Congress accomplished in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act approved last year. Among the act’s provisions were the creation of opportunity zones that have incentives for investments within them.

The Department of the Treasury and Internal Revenue Service designated 15 census tracts in the Mahoning Valley as opportunity zones.

“What we’re going to do when I’m governor is double-down on that, and make sure that Ohio does the same thing,” he said. “We will be the only state in the union that will give a tax break for people who will invest in areas that have been left behind. When we do that, we’re going to see capital flow in the Mahoning Valley and throughout the state of Ohio.”

Another provision of DeWine’s plan would incentivize research that can be commercialized by allowing research done at Ohio universities to remain the intellectual property of the researcher and not the institution. Permitting researchers to “reap the benefits” of their effort will “bring a great amount of brains to the state,” DeWine predicted.

During the roundtable, which included representatives of local manufacturers and education and training providers, several participants spoke of the need to reach youths earlier than high school, when many of them already have made decisions about career paths.

Jeremy Corbisello, director of the Columbiana County Career & Technical Center, said its collaboration with MVMC has helped “tremendously” in its efforts to reach out to students about career opportunities. He advocated for “more opportunities” to advertise and get younger people in earlier for visits, perhaps as soon as third or fourth grade.

“The core thing with what everybody has been talking about is engagement,” Chris Allen, North American talent engagement manager at Vallourec USA.

Engagement comes in many forms, including advertising, digital media and time spent by manufacturing professionals speaking with students, Allen said.

“That’s a very important factor when we’re talking how to attract students into coming manufacturing,” he said. “You go out and talk to students at the high school level, they are completely unaware of what we all do.” He also advocated reaching students earlier, in middle school.

As part of MVMC’s efforts, its executive director, Jessica Borza, said she, Traci Hostetler, superintendent of the Mahoning County Educational Service Center, and Allen are working through what the continuum looks like and how are they addressing engagement at each grade level.

“We also talked recently about how do we get to the parents and how do we educate educators,” she said.

“It’s incumbent upon us to present choices” to students, DeWine agreed. As governor, he could put a spotlight on career centers and the jobs they train people for, he said.

Alex Benyo, president at Taylor-Winfield, advocated for more consistent availability of training funds. Often those funds are depleted, he said.

Jimmie Bruce, president of Eastern Gateway Community College, called for finding ways to fund innovation in the education system.

Also during his visit, DeWine reflected on his former colleague, the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, who died Saturday. McCain, with whom he served alongside in both the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives and whom he endorsed twice for president, was “an American hero” who spoke his mind throughout his political career.

“Sometimes people didn’t like that, but he was a very, very candid, very courageous person,” he said.

DeWine declined to comment on whether he thought Trump’s response in the wake of McCain’s death was appropriate. Trump, who long had a contentious relationship with the Arizona GOP senator, offered a brief tweet expressing his condolences to McCain’s family and reportedly blocked the release of a fuller statement that had been prepared by the White House that more fully reflected on McCain’s service to the nation.

The White House flag also returned to full staff Monday after having been at half staff since McCain’s death, absent a presidential order to keep it at half staff until McCain’s interment.

Following widespread criticism, the flag was again lowered to half staff Monday afternoon.

“I’m not going to get into that,” DeWine said at the morning event. “It’s apparent in Ohio that the flags are at half staff. That’s unusual for someone who is not from the state of Ohio, but I think it’s just a real tribute to John McCain. He was always someone who was country first.”

DeWine also said his candidacy for governor was something that Trump and another of the president’s antagonists, incumbent Ohio Gov. John Kasich, agree on. Trump endorsed him and Kasich said he would vote for him, DeWine said.

“I’m in a unique position,” he remarked.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.