The Dayton region will see economic growth in 2022 but remains at risk from the COVID-19 resurgence and other problems, local economic experts say.
“The Dayton Region is poised for a strong recovery in 2022 and beyond,” said Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert. “Because of strong collaboration between government, nonprofits, and businesses, our economy is growing in several industries. We have focused on building a diverse economy, which will mitigate future industry-specific economic downturns.”
But, added Colbert, “while we are ready for economic recovery, uncertainty around the COVID-19 variants still presents a great threat to our residents’ health and lives, and to the economic well-being of our businesses.”
Colbert was one of seven experts the Dayton Daily News interviewed about the region’s 2022 economic outlook. The others interviewed were: Bill Adams, senior economist for PNC Financial Services Group; retired Air Force Col. Cassie Barlow, president of the Strategic Ohio Council for Higher Education; Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership; Chris Kershner, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce; Richard Stock, director of the University of Dayton Business Research Group; and Julie Sullivan, executive vice president of regional development at the Dayton Development Coalition.
What do you foresee for the Dayton Region’s economic recovery in 2022?
“Dayton’s recovery has lagged the national recovery so far, in part reflecting the impact of the auto supply chain problems on local manufacturers, as well as demographic trends,” Adams said.
The Dayton metropolitan area had the seventh lowest rate of job growth among the state’s 12 metropolitan areas, with the number of jobs increasing by 1.4% year-over-year to 381,900 in November, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Cincinnati metro area, which includes Butler County, had the most robust growth at 3.6%, and the Springfield area ranked third at 2.3%
Stock called the Dayton region’s job growth “anemic” and said there are still 13,400 fewer jobs than in November 2019 before the pandemic.
Four industry sectors have struggled the most in the last two years in the Dayton region: leisure and hospitality, down 4,800 jobs compared to November 2019, health care and social assistance, with 3,300 fewer jobs, as well as state government education services such as colleges and training centers and local governments, Stock said.
“Recovery in Dayton in 2022 will continue to be more anemic than otherwise because the underlying conditions causing weakness in those sectors have not been resolved,” Stock said.
On the positive side, Stock said, “strength in construction and continued strength in trade and transportation will offset some of the fallout from that continued weakness.”
“Manufacturing job growth will be mixed with strength in some sectors offset by factory closings in other areas,” Stock said. “Long term, Dayton will experience growth in professional and business services as it becomes more integrated in the greater Cincinnati area. Wright-Patterson (Air Force Base) will continue to be a source of strength in that area.”
While manufacturing has not fully recovered from the pandemic, Kershner said that sector will improve as shipping costs continue declining and supply chain bottlenecks clear up.
“The economy will continue its steady growth in 2022, yet likely at a slower pace than in 2021,” Kershner said. “Last year, we saw the economic recovery outpace expectations, due in part to consumer spending fueled by stimulus dollars.”
“Wages have increased across the region, which will hopefully translate to increased or sustained consumer spending,” he said.
After a very difficult 2020 the Dayton region saw economic development projects move forward in downtown Dayton, near the Dayton International Airport, and elsewhere in 2021, creating jobs and hope. An infusion of federal money from the infrastructure bill passed last year is also expected to boost jobs and development.
The unemployment rate was 3.5% in the Dayton metro area, tying with four other metro areas —including Springfield — for second lowest rate in November among the state’s metro areas. Cincinnati and Columbus had the lowest rate at 3%, according the the BLS.
Sullivan said Wright-Patt is driving growth among Dayton region defense contractors and the logistics and distribution industries continue to boom. Near the airport Amazon is building two new facilities, and a distribution center for Crocs shoes is nearly complete.
“Right now, we are very optimistic for 2022. We had a record-setting 2021 for JobsOhio projects in terms of committed jobs, and our pipeline for 2022 is very strong,” Sullivan said. “We’ve seen a variety of projects in diverse industries, increasing our region’s resiliency and creating new career opportunities for our communities.”
Gudorf said downtown construction projects are booming, with wait lists to get into housing developments, and the newly renovated Dayton Arcade opened, with apartments and private offices already full.
“I am extremely optimistic about the economic progress and economic recovery for our region,” Gudorf said. “Fourth quarter last year we had several round table discussions with several of our (office) businesses. For many, 2021 was a banner year for them. They expect the same kind of level going in to 2022.”
Also important to the recovery are southwest Ohio’s 23 colleges and universities, which educate 200,000 students annually and have a total economic impact of $7.3 billon, Barlow said.
“National research indicates that education is critical in any region for economic development and recovery,” she said. “Education raises people’s productivity and creativity and promotes entrepreneurship and technological advances. In addition, it plays a very crucial role in securing economic and social progress and improving income distribution.”
What are the primary hurdles the Dayton Region faces in 2022?
Educators at all levels, along with governments, businesses, nonprofit organizations and local residents are key to resolving what many see as the region’s greatest economic issue: workforce.
“The primary hurdle the Dayton Region faces in 2022 is continuing to build, attract and retain a trained and ready workforce,” Barlow said, “It has never been more important for every citizen of our region to earn a post-secondary credential in order to best contribute to our community’s needs, while earning a livable wage.”
The skills gap existed before the pandemic but the pandemic put that problem into overdrive as 20.5 million people were thrown out of work in April 2020 in the U.S. and the unemployment rate hit 14.7%. The pandemic recession decimated swaths of the economy.
Rebuilding the workforce has proven problematic as fear of COVID-19 continues, parents struggle to find affordable, quality child care, schools close and reopen, and people reevaluate their lives and occupations in what has become known as the Great Resignation.
In November a record 4.5 million people voluntarily quit their jobs nationally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Labor scarcity will likely intensify in 2022 as the recovery continues to push the unemployment rate lower,” Adams said. “Workers in Dayton will have more employment opportunities than in the past as national employers open up more positions for remote work.”
Last year a report commissioned by the First Suburbs Consortium of Dayton called for increasing regional collaboration on workforce issues. Local colleges and universities already work closely with businesses to target training toward workforce needs.
Montgomery County trains people for in-demand jobs and helps companies recruit workers, but employers face tough competition in the current job seekers’ market, Colbert said.
“People are aware of the increase in prices due to inflation and the need for higher wages and better benefits to support their families, even in an area as affordable as our region,” Colbert said. “It is those companies that are hesitant to provide livable wages and benefits that will continue to have trouble finding employees.”
Sullivan said it is crucial that the region be ready to provide a skilled workforce for companies and that companies engage with educators to make sure people learn the right skills.
“We must continue to support businesses in their efforts and work with our educational partners at all levels to help job seekers understand local opportunities,” Sullivan said. “The pandemic still poses a major challenge to businesses. Finding a path forward with minimal disruptions will be critical in 2022.”
What will be the local impact of pandemic-related economic disruptions such as supply chain issues, labor shortages and inflation and what should be done to ease those pressures?
Stock does not believe inflation will have a negative impact on the economy in 2022. But Kershner is not so sure, saying “prices and wages must level out for the economy to stabilize” and even when that occurs he doubts prices and wages will decline.
“The current rapid inflation rate and the fear of future inflation is driving businesses to be cautious,” Kershner said. “Businesses want economic certainty and COVID-19 has taught us that nothing is ever certain and everything will change.”
Credit: Caroline Williams
Credit: Caroline Williams
While supply chain issues are easing, Kershner said these pandemic-related problems continue to plague some industries. Gudorf said construction is one of them, but businesses are making adjustments and it hasn’t stopped construction projects from progressing downtown.
“I just commend many of our businesses on how resilient they are, how creative they are to try to find solutions to some of these challenges,” Gudorf said.
Colbert said the county helps small businesses find resources that will help them but noted that supply chain issues are tied closely to the labor shortage.
“As a large distribution hub for our region, lack of supplies hinders the manufacturing chain, which means fewer products to distribute,” Colbert said. “As distribution firms attract more workers, these issues will subside, but we’re uncertain as to how long that will take.”
Sullivan said the state is working to resolve supply chain issues by trying to “re-shore” manufacturing, so more products are made in the state and U.S.
“The Air Force’s Agility Prime program is a great example. One of the program’s goals is to keep the development and manufacture of ‘flying cars’ within the U.S.,” Sullivan said. “Springfield and the Dayton Region are well-positioned to capture that growth.”
How should the Dayton region leverage its strengths in 2022 to improve the economic outlook for businesses, workers and families?
“The Dayton region should continue to invest in workforce retention and attraction, leveraging our strengths in key industries such as defense and logistics and distribution,” Kershner said.
“We’re in a good position to attract talent, as people have become more mobile, working virtually, and choosing to live in places with a high quality of life. That’s where the Dayton region shines, and we should capitalize on this opportunity.”
Adams said improvements to quality of life are what “can draw in people and reverse Dayton’s population loss, which is the region’s biggest drag on economic growth.”
Those interviewed said the region’s attributes include a low cost of living, short commute times, abundance of amenities like recreation and the arts, relatively low housing costs, proximity to large cities and multiple educational institutions.
“Students in our region have an unlimited number of options when it comes to their education or training,” Barlow said. “One of our strengths is the fact that we are the home to our state’s largest single site employer, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (which) attracts a highly educated and talented workforce to our region that contribute to our ecosystem of innovation.”
Barlow suggested one workforce solution is for the region to attract more veterans, who she said offer a variety of skills and experiences to businesses and the community.
Sullivan said efforts should continue regionally and statewide to make Ohio “more military-friendly to preserve the missions we have and position the state to attract new ones.”
Several of those interviewed said one of the region’s strengths is the willingness of public and private sectors and members of the community to work together to innovate and solve problems.
“We’re very resilient and as we go into this new year we have a lot to work on. Of course the unknown is the pandemic,” Gudorf said. “As a community we have worked together in very creative ways to combat some of these hurdles but it’s going to be a challenge.”
For January’s Community Conversation, we explore the region’s economic outlook for 2022 and beyond. We’d also like to answer audience questions about the national and global economy on topics such as the labor market, supply chain issues and inflation. Watch the discussion live at noon on Wednesday, Jan. 19 on facebook.com/daytondailynews.
If you have questions you’d like our panelists to answer, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will also accept questions during the live broadcast via Facebook comments.
Follow @LynnHulseyDDN on Twitter and Facebook