Tax Incentive Council Wants Minorities, Residents Hired

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A database the city human relations commission just implemented aims to increase employment of residents and minorities by companies that get help from the city.

The new workforce database, which went live two weeks ago, was among the topics addressed at the annual meeting Friday of the Youngstown Tax Incentive Review Council.

The council, chaired by Mahoning County Auditor Ralph Meacham, recommended that City Council continue the 31 abatements and three tax increment financing agreements.

Investment totals under the active agreements far exceed the commitments. At the end of 2014, the companies had made $125.8 million in real and personal property investments, nearly two-thirds more than the $78.8 million they committed to obtain the incentives.

However, their hiring of city residents and minorities remains a challenge.

The 31 companies with active tax abatement agreements collectively employed 1,207 as of Dec. 31, including the 243 hired in 2014.

Of those hired, just 17% were city residents, 8% were members of a minority group and 13% were women. Residents made up 14% of those hired, minorities 9% and women 13%.

In 2013, city residents also represented 17% of those the companies employed, while minorities were 8% of the workforce and women 14%.

There has been an increase in “a lot of the categories that we’re looking at,” said T. Sharon Woodberry, and where there was a decrease, it was just one percentage point. “But of course we’d like to get that number up,” she said.

Woodberry is the city’s director of community planning and economic development.

The city cannot specify goals for minority hiring within incentive agreements. Instead it asks that companies make “best efforts” to hire at least 51% city residents and thereby increase minority hiring through that. Companies are to work with the OhioMeansJobs to show their best efforts.

“We’ve always had trouble getting people to do what you want to do. We’ve got to reach out a little further than this effort,” said Richard Atkinson, who represents the Youngstown Board of Education on the review council. “The best effort doesn’t seem to work, so maybe we should come up with a different strategy.”

Among the methods the city employs to increase hiring of Youngstown residents and minorities is the new workforce database, which Jonathan Bentley, executive director of the human relations commission, outlined.

Individuals can enter their personal information into the database on the website, including education, certifications and their skills. Once such information is entered into the database, Bentley said he can work to match their skills with the workforce needs of the companies that received incentives.

“We got our first [job] posting from Sid-Mar Foods,” Bentley said. He has an agreement with Eastern Gateway Community College to employ a computer terminal dedicated to the database and plans to have other terminals at Youngstown State University and at nearby career centers.

The database can be expanded and Bentley plans to add companies beyond those that receive incentives.

Bentley said he intends to meet with companies with incentives that have low levels of hiring city residents and minorities.

Efforts are underway to increase the pipeline of candidates for job openings, Woodberry said. Companies understand the city’s hiring objectives “but ultimately they still need to find the employees that they feel are qualified for positions,” she remarked.

Those efforts include the Community Connectors school mentorship program, which kicks off next month.

Members of the council repeated the litany of reasons for the smaller than desired number of residents and minorities hired: lack of skills – both technical skills and soft skills, such as reporting on time for work and preparing for a job interview – and passing a drug test.

Companies do training for proprietary skills they need “but they still expect a baseline of experience before they actually hire,” Woodberry said.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.