The need for a trained workforce was a recurring theme during a round table discussion Thursday which U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, convened with area business and political leaders.
DOVER The need for a trained workforce was a recurring theme during a round table discussion Thursday which U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, convened with area business and political leaders.
“We hear it from our customers and other people in the community, there is a real shortage of just good qualified people for the workforce,” said Larry Troyer of ProVia Door in Sugarcreek. “We’re not talking people with lots of college degrees, we’re talking people that know how to weld, how to build, people who want to be masons or electricians.”
Brown met for 90 minutes around a large table at Union Country Club in Dover with officials including Dover Mayor Richard Homrighausen, New Philadelphia Mayor Joel Day, Tuscarawas County Commissioner Chris Abbuhl and Scott Robinson, president and CEO of the Tuscarawas County Chamber of Commerce.
The senator listened more than he talked, questioning each person around the table about issues they were facing. “I came here to listen,” Brown told the media before the event.
The session began with a discussion of the recent Dale Lauren Foland Summer Manufacturing Camp, in which seventh and eighth graders from Tuscarawas County got to visit area manufacturing facilities. The camp, which is designed to promote interest in manufacturing jobs, has been held locally for the past two years. Brown’s office helped organize it.
Kevin Gray of Lauren International, principal sponsor of the local camp, said he has been hearing nothing but positive reviews from students who participated, as well as their parents.
“They were amazed with what’s involved in manufacturing,” he told the senator. “It’s far more than the perception — dirty old grungy buildings and tough work. That’s really not what it is in today’s age.”
Harry Eadon, president and executive director of the Economic Development and Finance Alliance of Tuscarawas County, said that when companies are looking to move into an area, one of the things they want to know is if the people with the job skills they need are available.
He noted that a study by Georgetown University found that there are 30 million jobs in the United States paying $55,000 a year that do not require a college degree.
“Yet we continue to promote to our kids that they have to go to school, they have to get an associate’s degree at least or a bachelor’s degree or some other advanced degree,” Eadon pointed out.
Teresa Hartley, a representative of the United Steelworkers union in Columbus, talked about wages, noting that workers have a hard time surviving on jobs paying $10.50 an hour. She said these workers are unable to take care of their children at that wage or meet other responsibilities.
Pat Culpepper of Progressive Foam, which has plants in Beach City and Gnadenhutten, said that from Progressive’s perspective, companies that are “bright and proactive” are focused on giving their employees better wages, better benefits and better working conditions.
“We don’t have trouble finding people, but we’re ahead of the game and we have an HR department that is out looking for people,” he said. “The good news is, we’re forced to bring our game on. It’s supply and demand. This is where capitalism is going to do its thing, and it’s going to have to compete better. Wages are going to go up and wages need to go up.”
The senator later questioned Day about how things are going in New Philadelphia.
The mayor noted the opening of Starbucks and Chipolte in the city.
“These businesses are good for New Philadelphia, but to me it’s more important that we continue things like the manufacturing camp because it’s manufacturing jobs that really help municipalities,” Day said. “We gain more income tax from manufacturing, and that’s the money we use to provide city services.
“The retail jobs are good, don’t get me wrong. I love going with Scott (Robinson) and cutting ribbons to these type of businesses, but boy would I love to cut a ribbon for manufacturing.”
Day said the city is running out of land for manufacturing development. “We’re pretty well tapped out. So we need to expand our boundaries.”
Eadon added that officials are looking for the area’s next industrial park and the money to fund it.
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