VOICES: Appreciating our past successes with an eye on the future

Steve Stivers is the president & CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. As the state’s leading business advocate and resource, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce aggressively champions free enterprise, economic competitiveness and growth for the benefit of all Ohio businesses. (CONTRIBUTED)
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Steve Stivers is the president & CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. As the state’s leading business advocate and resource, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce aggressively champions free enterprise, economic competitiveness and growth for the benefit of all Ohio businesses. (CONTRIBUTED)

Manufacturing one of the top sectors in the state of Ohio’s economy. Last year alone, manufacturing accounted for 17 percent of Ohio’s total output and employed over 12 percent of the workforce. With these kinds of numbers, manufacturing is a sector of Ohio’s economy that we cannot ignore. Luckily, there are several steps Ohio has already taken to set our state and businesses up for success.

The state of Ohio has been thoughtful in its efforts to increase interest in manufacturing jobs through the creation of mentorship programs and creation of industry sector partnerships between employers and their local schools. Passage of Senate Bill 166 (SB 166) by the Ohio House will be a crucial next step in that partnership effort. SB 166 will create the Student Pathways to Career Success Grant Program. This program will create financial incentives for businesses to provide work-based learning opportunities for students enrolled in technical programs.

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Furthermore, the factory floors of today look and work nothing like they did 50 years ago and, as we all know, the use of technology has accelerated production and increased efficiency for manufacturers. However, that means that we also must remain focused on how to keep Ohio at the forefront of technological advances to keep us competitive.

To this end, I am pleased that state leaders have taken this issue seriously with their focus on broadband deployment and the creation of Innovate Ohio to help develop a statewide broadband strategy to improve access to high-speed internet that will make it easy for businesses to locate here. Also beneficial was the creation of a TechCred Program that allows employers to apply for grant money to increase employees’ skills and credentials.

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The state legislature has also done a good job taking manufacturing into consideration while shaping the state’s tax code. Ohio reformed its taxes in the early 2000s to reflect Ohio’s manufacturing base. More recently, the Ohio Chamber worked to repeal the sales tax on employment services, which was a hinderance to hiring, and it was passed in the budget over this past summer. This will provide an estimated $125 million in savings to Ohio’s employers.

However, because manufacturing is such an important driver of our economy, we can’t lose sight of new policies and programs that will be a driving force in making Ohio an attractive place for manufacturers to do business in the years to come. With the increased use of technology like artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing, and virtual reality (VR), Ohio is going to need to remain future-focused to stay competitive. Because automobile manufacturers are such a large segment of Ohio’s economy and workforce, it would be wise to consider steps to encourage the buildout and transformation of Ohio’s vehicle manufacturing to account for the move to electric vehicle (EV) production with investment in EV infrastructure, additional consumer credits and retooling incentives.

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We also need to make certain we are making Ohio attractive for new manufacturers to move here. We won’t be able to get new companies to locate in Ohio without the necessary infrastructure. That includes roads, broadband and natural gas lines. We need to ensure we are being aggressive in staying on top of these priorities, making it easy for companies to choose Ohio over our neighboring states.

Finally, as I travel around the state to visit our member companies, one of the main issues I hear over and over again is workforce, including workforce shortages. Today, we have more open jobs in Ohio than we have people applying for the positions. There needs to be a concerted effort to encourage workers, across all sectors to move to Ohio. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce is working on a public-private partnership that would provide incentives and targeted marketing to encourage people to move here.

As a state there is so much working in our favor, we have a low cost of living and a high quality of life. Historically, our state leaders have positioned Ohio to attract manufacturers to our state. However, we can’t become complacent, we need to remain future focused to set ourselves up for success in the decades to come.

Steve Stivers is the president & CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. As the state’s leading business advocate and resource, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce aggressively champions free enterprise, economic competitiveness and growth for the benefit of all Ohio businesses.

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