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Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition Turns 5

CANFIELD, Ohio — The thought of creating a coalition of manufacturers – many of whom compete with one another for business and workplace talent – to address the shortage of skilled workers in the manufacturing sector was met with skepticism when the idea was raised more than five years ago.

Those suspicions have since evaporated. What today is the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition has addressed many of these concerns as the group has written a new chapter in the region’s manufacturing economy, its members say.

“It has been the transition point from the manufacturing community going from survival mode to collaborative mode,” says Michael Garvey, president of M-7 Technologies in Youngstown. “That not only builds the strength of the companies but builds the strength of the community.”

Garvey, Jock Buta, president of Butech Bliss in Salem, and Andreas Foerster, president of Starr Manufacturing in Vienna Township, shared their thoughts on how the coalition has helped the region’s manufacturing base over the last five years. The panel was part of the MVMC’s quarterly meeting at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center Nov. 4.

“All of us are competitors sitting together,” Foerster observed. “It’s unprecedented that all of these companies got together in a common room to share all their worries, because the most important resource we have are the people who make a difference in your product.”

What’s taken place in the last five years has surpassed his expectations, Buta reflected, noting the efforts realized to establish a sustainable apprenticeship programs and other ways to rebuild the manufacturing workforce of the Mahoning Valley.

“We had to sell manufacturing careers. It’s a major, major issue,” he said. “It’s greatly exceeded my expectations.”

The MVMC has grown from a core group of manufacturers to a coalition composed of more than 100 members that represent private industry, development organizations, area trade schools and high schools, and universities and community colleges in the region.

Over the last five years, the MVMC has been instrumental in attracting and directing nearly $18 million in grants, scholarships and membership dues to its programs. The organization served as the lead agency for a $2.9 million grant from the Department of Labor to establish the Greater Oh-Penn Manufacturing Apprenticeship Network.

MVMC has also addressed gaps in training skills, secured outreach programs to attract younger people into the manufacturing trades, and has helped rebrand the image of manufacturing in the region.

Garvey credits broad-scale participation by local producers, economic development organizations and academic institutions as one key to making the MVMC a success.

“Without broad-scale participation, we would have never gotten $18 million in grants, never would have gotten the curriculum introduced in schools, and never would have gotten the interest of 158 apprentices going into the machining trades,” Garvey says.

Buta noted that the organization has changed the manufacturing culture in the region from shutting down apprenticeship and co-op programs into efforts to bring on additional programs.

“It’s been fantastic,” he says. “But we still have work to do. Probably the biggest one now is that there’s a gap between skills students have coming out and what is needed in the workplace.”

Garvey added that the future of manufacturing rests with advances in technology. “The biggest trend in manufacturing is that machine shops will be run from a cell phone,” he said. “We need to understand that and embrace that. Industry 4.0 is the trend, and it’s based on digital models.”

The more technically savvy the Mahoning Valley is about advanced manufacturing, the more competitive it will be in the global market, Buta added. “The reality is that we have foreign competitors who have labor costs that are a fraction of ours,” he said. “We have to win on productivity and technology, and the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition clearly has that in our sites.”

Despite the coalition’s success, challenges remain, said Executive Director Jessica Borza.

Among the priorities are expanding MVMC’s recruitment and engagement strategy, expanding its apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, new youth outreach and recruitment efforts, establishing a career pathways program in industrial maintenance and welding, and promoting shared resources within the community.

“We continue to advance the strategies that work for us over the next five years,” Borza said.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.