MVMC Begins New Era of Leadership

CANFIELD, Ohio – Alex Hertzer, the interim executive director of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, understands he has some big shoes to fill.

“Jessica has done such a great job developing this core ecosystem,” Hertzer said of Jessica Borza, MVMC’s former executive director and now the managing director of workforce services for the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association. 

“We’re really looking to build off of that success. We’ll continue to develop the WorkAdvance Program – we have some new and exciting ideas around being able to provide pre-apprenticeship opportunities for that program, as well as building our youth outreach,” Hertzer said.

MVMC hosted its quarterly membership meeting Thursday at Mahoning County Career & Technical Center, where it provided updates on its workforce development initiatives and outreach programs. 

He said Borza is playing a supportive role as he transitions into the new job.

“I’m really excited to take this new opportunity,” he said. “I’ve really found an alignment with my core passion.”

In February, MVMC announced that Borza would leave her position there to join OMA. Her new job, however, requires that she help develop the state network of industry sector partnerships, including MVMC.

The state of Ohio has long considered MVMC the model for industry sector partnership organizations. Today, there are 19 such coalitions across the state, and Borza will help establish a network between these partnerships, including MVMC, and assist those that are in earlier stages of their development.

“The transition is going really well,” she said. “It’s nice to have a wonderful, solid team that have lots of ideas and are able to step up into new roles in MVMC pretty naturally.”

Borza reflects to 2011, when the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition was founded by a handful of dedicated companies that wanted to ensure the future of industry in the region.  Borza had served as the coalition’s executive director since its inception.

“It’s really amazing to think back to that small group of committed manufacturers,” Borza said. “I think there were 13, then to 20, and then it grew to 25 or 30 manufacturers strong for the first several years,” she said, crediting Brian Benyo, former president of Brilex Industries, as the catalyst for the organization.

Today, MVMC boasts a membership of more than 70 companies, most of them small- and medium-size manufacturers. Additional members include partners in the academic and workforce development sectors. 

“The thing that stands out to me is just the level of partnership that came together,” Borza said.

During its quarterly meeting, MVMC staff provided updates on the coalition’s efforts to build the industrial sector’s workforce through youth outreach, apprenticeships and the WorkAdvance program. 

The program helps prepare those interested in a career in manufacturing with MVMC members that are in need of employees.

Adelbert Jones, who lives in western Pennsylvania, was delivering for an Amazon operation in Pittsburgh when an accident on his way home totaled his vehicle. “I didn’t have a way to get to work,” he said. Jones heard about the WorkAdvance program – he already had some past experience working with robotics and machines – and leaped at the opportunity.

“It tightened up everything I knew, and the certification made it easier to get into work,” he said.  Jones toured Liberty Steel Industries’ slitting operation and realized the opportunity.

“I applied at Liberty Steel – I saw the room for growth at the company,” Jones said.

The program has been successful in attracting young people to area businesses. Students at Choffin Career & Technical Center in Youngstown have engaged in readiness training, and several have interviewed for positions at Schwebel Baking Co. 

The program’s Youngstown cohort has so far placed nine graduates into full-time positions in the region, said Christi Dunlap, project coordinator. Meanwhile, the WorkAdvance Warren cohort – launched last year – has since hosted two boot camps in December and February, she said.

MVMC’s youth outreach initiatives continue to gain momentum, said project manager Allison Engstrom. MVMC has partnered with local school districts, the Youngstown Business Incubator and other organizations to spread the word about careers in manufacturing.

These include a manufacturing day at Jefferson PK- 8, held March 12, and an Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Night on June 13 sponsored by the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. 

“We thought it would be a great fit,” said Jordan Taylor, vice president of HWS Baseball. He said the exposure would help spur interest in both young people and adults looking at manufacturing careers.

MVMC is also moving forward with efforts to assist development of an industry sector partnership consisting of manufacturers in Lawrence and Mercer counties in western Pennsylvania, said MVMC’s Julie Michael Smith.

Part of the effort is to develop competitions that partner middle school teams with manufacturers, marketing initiatives to emphasize good jobs in manufacturing, developing an industrial technology program through Mercer County Career and Technical Center and youth outreach events, she said.

“We’re able to share best practices, and in certain instances, work together on efforts as we have in the past, particularly around funding,” to enhance regional workforce resources and programs, she said.

Pictured at top: Jessica Borza and Alex Hertzer.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.