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Ohio Manufacturing 'roaring back' but skilled workers still needed

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Ohio’s manufacturing sector produced nearly $100 billion worth of goods last year, accounting for almost 5 percent of U.S. manufacturing output, ranking the state fourth in the nation after California, Texas and Illinois.

To fuel further growth, Ohio must develop a new workforce capable of operating modern production equipment that increasingly relies on sensors, software and other advanced technology, state and local manufacturing officials said.

On Friday, 67 Ohio companies are registered to take part in Manufacturing Day, the third annual event in which North American manufacturers open their doors for students, teachers and parents to showcase modern manufacturing careers.

The event can help manufacturers address their skilled labor shortage by connecting them with future generations of potential workers, organizers say.

“We can’t grow without good people, so the technical workforce paces the growth of our business,” said Greg Martin, senior vice president of DRT Holdings, the parent company of DRT Medical LLC, a producer of surgical implants and instruments. DRT Medical operates an expanding West Chester Twp. location.

Lebanon’s JBM Envelope is combating the skills shortage by learning to do more with less and focusing on a continuous improvement culture, said Chief Executive Officer Marcus Sheanshang.

JBM Envelope, and its subdivision JBM Packaging, employs about 150 people making open-end paper envelopes and folded packaging such as bank teller drive-thru envelopes, drinking cups and retail seed packets.

“We still have a lot of open positions,” Sheanshang said.

“It’s been a struggle. We’ve been looking for I mean, months and in some cases, years. We’ve got a lot of roles on the floor,” he said.

“What we’re doing is saying what can we do, how can we do more with the current people that we have in place? We spend a tremendous amount of money each year, more than six figures each year, training our team members in different things.”

Ohio Manufacturers’ Association President Eric Burkland said the last two recessions were “brutal” on manufacturing, particularly in the Midwest. The region was hurt by a number of automotive industry-related plant closings during the last recession, which claimed thousands of area jobs.

“But the last few years, we are coming roaring back,” Burkland said.

Manufacturing is the largest of Ohio’s 20 key industry sectors, based on the value of goods produced. Manufacturing represented nearly 17.7 percent of the state’s total output in 2013, according to new report from the Ohio Research Office, which is affiliated with the federal U.S. Census Bureau.

Last year, Ohio manufacturers produced $99.8 billion worth of goods, a 14.5 percent increase from $87.2 billion in 2012. In fact, Ohio’s manufacturing industry rose in ranks among the 50 states to fourth from fifth over that same period.

In the Cincinnati metropolitan region, there are more than 106,000 workers employed at area manufacturers, according to state estimates.

The growth is attributed to continuing re-investments in new processes and products during the most recent economic downturn, Burkland said. While some plants went out of business, others were remaking themselves much more competitive.

“As the economy has improved, Ohio manufacturing has been in a position to take advantage of it,” Burkland said.

Much of today’s manufacturing is heavily automated, using self-operating machines that require highly skilled maintenance technicians. Computer-operated machine tools also require workers with programming skills.

Burkland said those jobs take good foundational skills that include basic math, problem solving and communication. Once hired, workers are then trained to operate specific pieces of equipment.

“The biggest issue we have right now is the availability of skilled workers. So we could be hiring more people if the workforce were there,” Burkland said.


By Dave Larsen and Chelsey Levingston

For more check out the Journal News.