By early next year, Fuyao Glass America President Jeff Liu said he expects to need 700 more workers to meet his customer demands.
“We actually have a big challenge: we want to expand our production line and we have a shortage of people,” he said before a Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce event featuring the two major party candidates for Ohio governor, Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray.
Fuyao in Moraine isn’t alone.
Manufacturers and other businesses across the Miami Valley and Ohio say they’re leaving work on the table because they can’t find qualified, skilled workers to fill job openings. This is happening even though federal data indicate 20,000 unemployed people in Montgomery, Greene and Miami counties are job hunting.
Dayton Development Coalition President Jeff Hoagland said businesses looking to expand or relocate used to focus on what an area offered in tax incentives and building sites. “Now it is: what does your talent look like,” he said. Secondarily, companies want sites and buildings that are move-in ready, he said.
DeWine and Cordray are each making workforce development and job training a centerpiece of their Ohio governor campaigns.
Cordray wants to put a bond issue of at least $1.8-billion before Ohio voters to pay for roads, bridges, underground infrastructure, broadband technolgy and public transit; offer a full-spectrum of paths to jobs, including technical school programs, industry certifications and two-year and four-year degrees; and invest in supporting small businesses.
“Businesses will locate in the state if we show them that we have the talent,” Cordray said.
DeWine and his running mate Jon Husted promised to streamline government regulations — even get authority for the governor to waive any rule that hinders job creation; increase the number of high school students graduating with early college credits and students graduating from technical schools; push for industry certification training programs;and create opportunity zones to lure investment of unrealized capital gains.
OhioMeansJobs.com, a job posting website run by the state, lists 15,500 openings in the 12-county area around Dayton. Roughly half of those positions pay $50,000 to $79,000 and three-quarters of the openings require an associate’s degree or better. That points to one of the biggest hurdles in matching jobs with people: the skills gap.
Employers want workers with basic math and communications skills, ability to follow directions, be polite and show up on time and often more advanced training. Often, workers are sidelined because they don’t have a car or driver’s license to get to a job or others have drug problems or a criminal record.
Some people are stuck in low-paying, part-time gigs that make it difficult to make ends meet.
Consider this: The average wage in Montgomery, Greene and Miami counties is less than it was in 2007, when the cost of living was much lower. Today, seven of the 10 most common jobs in those counties pay too little to feed a family of three, according to a study by Policy Matters Ohio using government data.
While the NFIB Ohio, Ohio Manufacturers Association and Ohio Chamber of Commerce are backing DeWine for governor, the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce is neutral in the race.
“For us, it’s not about the ‘R,’ it’s not about the ‘D,’ it’s about ‘B’ – it’s about who is going to be good for business,” said Chris Kershner, executive vice president of the Dayton chamber and a former aide to Jon Husted, DeWine’s running mate.
The top concern businesses have hasn’t been a mystery: Companies have long needed trained employees ready to work. “Workforce development continues to be the No. 1 issue where the business community is looking for support.”
That means closing the gap between the skills employers need and the skills applicants have, Kershner said. He means addressing worker shortages in an era of relatively low unemployment.
“We’re going to be hopeful that we can continue some public-private partnerships with this next administration to advance some solutions,” he said.
The Ohio Third Frontier program has worked well, he said. This summer, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation recommended asking voters to again renew the Third Frontier bond program. There’s about $225 million in the fund today, but that number goes down over time. Voters last authorized state-backed bonds for the program in 2010.
“We’d love to see some version of the Third Frontier program continue,” Kershner said. “That was started under Gov. Taft, it continued under Gov. Strickland, and it continued under Gov. Kasich – three different administrations, two different parties.”
Next governor needs
Karen Halsey, president and owner of Better Built Construction Services Inc. in Middletown, said her firm does most of its work for the federal government. But her chief concern is a familiar one.
“Health care is definitely an issue, especially for small businesses,” said Halsey who has just four employees in Middletown. “It’s just so expensive. It would certainly be nice to have some kind of relief there.”
Doug Barry, head of Barry Staff, said he would like to see the next governor revamp the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, the state run insurance program for injured workers. Barry said his workers’ compensation premiums are a big expense and he’d like the option of picking a high-deductible plan, rather than the one-size-fits-all plan that is in place.
He added that Ohio should allow for gradually phasing out public benefits for workers as they earn more. As it is, once they cross an income threshold, all benefits end — like going off a cliff, he said.
“I’m a small business owner so those are the issues we are looking at as the key issues,” Barry said.
Angelia Erbaugh, president of Dayton Regional Manufacturers Association, hears similar concerns from her members: “The need for skilled workers, the cost of health care, the burden of regulations on businesses, the corporate tax rate and a complicated tax code, business sustainability and aging infrastructure.”
“All of these issues are being addressed to some degree by our elected officials, and there is always more work that can be done,” Erbaugh said.
John Danis, chairman and chief executive of Danis Construction, said he simply wants the next governor to be an ally to business.
“I want the governor to do what he can to keep the state poised for additional growth in terms of business and jobs,” Danis said. “I think that means making Ohio an easy place to do business and a low-tax place to do business. And we need to make sure we have people trained who can be employees.”
Mari Wenrick, co-owner of Clayton packaging manufacturer Value Added Packaging, wants help in undoing some outdated perceptions of manufacturers.
“Manufacturing is a lot more exciting than the general public realizes, with growth,” Wenrick said. “Many small and medium manufacturing companies are very focused on what they do in their business. This makes it hard to go and find some of the resources available. It would be great to have more visibility and bridges to connect us with the available resources, such as workforce programs, workforce development training opportunities.”