What Do We Need to Do to Bring about a “Real” Manufacturing Renaissance in Ashtabula County?

When you read this article don’t get me wrong, manufacturing is credibly important to Ashtabula County’s economic base, but we must strive to know economic reality if the county is going to dig out from its longstanding economic fall. A new national report says a great rebirth of manufacturing in America is a long way from the truth.

Business Insider Magazine says in a recent article that perhaps we have we been letting a good story get in the way of the facts. Amazing how that happens in the world of economic development! The article continues that the “manufacturing renaissance” has been the central point in the return of America’s industrial power. It even has its own national council called the National Manufacturing Renaissance Council.Yet the facts say that the United States may have added only about one new manufacturing job in the last few years for every five that were lost during the financial crisis and the recession that followed. That’s according to a new report from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a non-partisan and non-profit think tank based in Washington, DC. Download the report here.

“We have stretched six cool examples [of the rebirth of manufacturing] into a whole news trend,” says Adams Nager, economic research industry at the foundation and, together with its president, Robert Atkinson, the co-author of the report. The authors continue: “A lot of people are desperate for positive economic news, so articles suggesting that there’s a revival of manufacturing get a lot of traction.”

Manufacturing reality in Ashtabula County is that it represents one-third of the county’s economic output ($1.04 billion of $3.34 billion), which has decreased somewhat over the past decade, but manufacturing’s economic contribution is MANY times larger than Agriculture, Tourism, or any other industry sector represented in the county. The county lost 2,100 manufacturing jobs in 2004-2013 (from 8,650 to 6,545), which is a 24.3% loss over the decade.

So what does all this tell us? Five things must be done, and done now!

First, manufacturing is a strategic industry in Ashtabula County, and we must work with local manufacturers to develop a more competitive workforce for the future. I am in the hunt for national best practices in this regard.

Second, technological innovation (often a job killer) is essential to the survival and growth of local manufacturers. MAGNET and other regional and statewide manufacturing groups can help us on both workforce and technology competitiveness.

Third, we must hold onto and reinvent local manufacturing companies. In the past decade, we have seen a changeover in the ownership of some of our leading manufacturing companies. It’s not over! Local ownership of these companies is critical. Many of our current aging manufacturing companies need to be rebuilt if they are to survive and thrive. That is a challenge local young talent can help with. We need to turn over the reins to these companies to bright, ambitious, and hardworking young local entrepreneurs. And yes, it will take them some time to get ready, but we must move in this direction.

Fourth, we need new competitive buildings and sites that can house “manufacturing of the future.” Our business real estate stock is very aged and needs reinvestment to make these facilities and sites competitive for knowledge-based manufacturing.

Finally, we need to grow our existing industrial strengths and we must diversify our manufacturing base in new industries of the future. Diversification is essential on all levels (products, markets, processes, etc.).

Ashtabula County has reached a level of industrial maturity that demands a more highly skilled and educated workforce, new technology, and next generation leadership. That’s how we achieve a rebirth of manufacturing in our county.

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