VOICES: Building on Dayton manufacturing legacy requires examining needs of employees

The Miami Valley is an excellent region for current and emerging manufacturing and supply chain operations. After all, Dayton is the birthplace of innovation in defense, aviation and healthcare and has a long, storied history as a manufacturing center. While Dayton has seen a decline in manufacturing jobs in the last few decades, over the last several years it has begun to experience a resurgence in companies building up their operations in Dayton.

There are many attractive elements that might draw manufacturing businesses to Dayton. Dayton blends of a strong sense of community, diverse options for schools and activities, one of the best costs of living in the country, as well as incentives and tax breaks. Skilled trade advocacy is also experiencing a genuine resurgence. LION, for example, works closely with community partners such as the Dayton Sewing Collaborative, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Montgomery County Jobs, and the University of Cincinnati so that students and others interested in clothing manufacturing the have opportunity for internships and jobs that allow exposure to LION’s operations. I urge our fellow manufacturers to leverage these education and workforce development programs to build strong teams.

In Dayton, LION manufactures customized multi-layer clothing known as “turnout gear” and chemical protection gear. There is very little automation capable of simplifying our manufacturing process. A large amount of training time and instruction must be invested before an employee is able to work independently on the production line. Therefore, developing and maintaining an engaged and skilled talent is a top priority.

A compelling attraction for employees is who we are as a company: a family-owned, American manufacturer serving first responders. We have been privately held by the same family in Dayton for more than 120 years. We provide a collaborative, transparent and close-knit workplace culture. I believe that every company’s story is unique and is worth telling to attract and motivate their employees.

Retaining talent in a competitive job market — unprecedented in recent history — is very challenging. At the same time, it presents a unique opportunity. LION consistently strives to offer competitive pay and benefits while also incentivizing employees to build upon their skills to further advance their job and compensation opportunities. Our Dayton factory’s workforce, representative of most regional manufacturers today, is multi-cultural and diverse. This demands that managers appreciate the individual viewpoints, styles and ideas of each employee and find ways to personalize their work experience. We take extra care to provide a welcoming workplace centered on innovation and collaboration — two of our core beliefs — and open to everyone’s participation.

We have also found it necessary to think beyond traditional workforce management strategies. We have seen that proactively recognizing the stress, mental health, and the life experience of our supervisors and staff members, in order to support them as workers, but also to support their personal lives has helped create flexibility and empathy that has pulled our workforce closer together. Providing this support is another reality for manufacturers who want to retain and motivate their workforce.

We believe it is critical to our success to holistically examine and re-examine the needs of our employees, inside and outside of work, valuing engagement, fostering a true belief in the product we produce, and finding joy in work and with our co-workers. These are all elements that every company in the Miami Valley can incorporate into their culture, building on the rich Dayton legacy of innovation and purpose.

Steve Schwartz is the CEO of LION, a manufacturer of firefighting equipment and chemical protection gear.

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