Economic Development

City Companies with Abatements Mostly Hit Hiring Goals

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The city’s human relations director said Thursday he was satisfied with the results of a program to monitor the job-creation performance of companies that received tax abatements and to assist them with meeting their goals. 

Jonathan Bentley shared those results with members of the city’s Tax Incentive Review Committee, which voted to accept the 2018 report on the city’s enterprise zone program at its meeting. 

Minorities represented 17% of hires in 2018 and 9% of employees overall. Women represented 35% of hires last year and 18% overall.   

Bentley reported on monitoring efforts for several companies that received incentives based on their efforts to increase hires of city residents, women and minorities. Several of the companies increased outreach efforts by going to job fairs or doing more advertising of positions in various venues. 

Achieving those objectives is easier for some companies than others, Bentley acknowledged. Among the companies monitored, Exal Corp., operating under an abatement agreement through 2021, reported 28% of its new hires were city residents, 6% were minorities and 17% were women.  

“Those jobs tend to be easier to fill. They’re trainable jobs, not requiring certification, so they might have a little bit easier time filling these if qualified applicants come to the door,” Bentley said.   

The challenge to hire from targeted demographics is greater for a company like Gulu Electrical Contractors, whose abatement is due to expire next fall. “They do require specialized training and certifications to fill those positions,” he said. 

To help meet those goals, Gulu is working with the Youngstown Area Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Training Center to increase recruitment of women, minorities and city residents into the electrical apprenticeship program, he said. That will require a “long-term approach” because the electrical apprenticeship program runs four years.  

Gasser Chair Co., another company monitored, also requires workers with specific skills but has participated in job and employment fairs, increased advertising of available jobs and utilized the city of Youngstown’s website to promote openings. 

“They made the effort to get the word out there, they made a good-faith effort to do hiring to meet their numbers, but I’m looking forward to what the future holds with Gasser Chair,” he said. “They are going to grow but we need to make sure that we’re putting enough qualified citizens that can also pass a drug test into those positions.” 

At Taylor Winfield Technologies, 40% of new hires in 2018 were city residents, according to the report.  

Bentley also monitored two companies that had expired abatement agreements with the city, Brilex Industries and P&L Metalcrafts. He reported he was “pleasantly surprised” by their efforts to get the message out about available jobs. 

Brilex committed to advertising using billboards and advertising openings via the city’s website, Ohio Means Jobs and other vehicles, and participated in local job fairs, he said. P&L made similar commitments to utilize “multiple outlets” to make people aware of openings and the requirements of those positions, he said.   

“There’s always been that kind of disconnect,” with prospective employees saying they’re applying but not getting hired, and employers saying they need people with a certain skill set – and who are able to pass drug tests – to fill those openings, Bentley said.  

“The connections are starting to be made,” he said. He also expressed optimism about a Cleveland-based workforce development resource that would be coming to the city in the next couple months, though he declined to share further details about it Thursday.

“It’ll be a game-changer for downtown Youngstown and the workforce,” he said.   

Companies under active enterprise zone agreements employed 1,046 workers at the project sites during 2018, including 279 hired last year. Investment at the sites totaled $160.57 million as of last year, up from $130.74 million as of 2017. 

Some companies reported “tremendous success” in hiring city residents and minorities, affirmed T. Sharon Woodberry, economic development director. Others have faced challenges, and she has urged such firms to take advantage of resources such as Ohio Means Jobs to help find and develop the workforce they need. 

Two companies did not report any employment activity, Allied Consolidated Industries Inc., whose properties were sold at auction this summer, and ExterranEnergy Solutions, which shuttered its Salt Springs Road building in 2016 following the downturn in the oil and gas industry.  

Woodberry said she has been unable to identify the new owner of the Allied property to communicate with him. Exterran is in discussions with an expanding company that is considering relocating to its building. 

Coronado Steel, which has one enterprise zone agreement that ended last year and another that terminates in 2020, has three fewer employees than when it started under the agreement, she said. That is despite having hired 29 people last year, according to the report. 

“They need to be in the mid-50s to meet the demand for the number of contracts they have,” she said. 

The company is “actively hiring” but is experiencing challenges with “significant turnover” and finding workers for the physically demanding work, she said. Another challenge is finding people who can pass a drug test; according to Woodberry, the company reports about a quarter of prospective employees fail a drug screen.   

Coronado Steel, like other companies participating in the program, has been responsive in terms of job postings and letting the city know when there are positions to be filled, she said.

“We have tried to be involved and engaged as much as we can,” Woodberry said.

Woodberry also said she is working with organizations including the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, Youngstown Area Goodwill Industries and Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership to connect employers with potential employees and to provide support services. In addition to the skills gap, potential challenges job seekers face include lack of soft skills and transportation. 

The committee approved continuing the agreements for most of the companies as recommended. Prior to the committee’s next meeting, Woodberry said she would reach out to Allied’s owners regarding their plans for the property. If the owner is just holding the property as a real estate investment, the abatement should be discontinued. 

She also will continue efforts to contact the point person at MS Consultants, which has an abatement that expires next year, whom she also has been unable to reach regarding its hiring.

Among the companies Bentley said he intends to monitor in the coming year is M.J. Joseph Development Corp., which is developing the Chill-Can manufacturing and research campus on the East Side. 

“The reason I would like to monitor them going into 2020 is there has not been movement hiring wise,” he said. “Whatever goes forward, the citizens of Youngstown need to be a part of that. A lot of people made concessions to make that project happen and deserve information as to at least what’s going on.” 

He also said he intends to monitor Fireline Inc., which is experiencing “tremendous growth” and Gasser Chair again. 

The intent to monitor the companies isn’t intended to be a negative but the city needs “to stay on top of these companies that are growing,” he said. 

This year was the first under a program to monitor and work with companies throughout the year, and Bentley said the companies he worked with were willing to participate in the process. The approach isn’t intended to find reasons to pull an abatement, but rather to work with companies to enhance their hiring and meet their goals. 

“I was very pleased with how responsive everybody was,” he said. 

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.