Laura Tomaka

Author Articles

CSG Midwest
Marysville, Ohio, is home to the first Honda manufacturing plant in America. It opened in 1979 with 64 workers assembling the company’s Motocross motorcycle. Auto production soon followed. Now in its 40th year of production, the original plant, along with several nearby operations, employs 13,000 workers in the northwest part of the state.
Ohio Rep. Jon Cross, whose district lies just north of the Marysville plant, has visited the facility and seen the work being done there. “It’s highly technical, highly skilled,” he notes, more of what one might expect at a tech company rather than a car manufacturer.
More and more, that is the reality of work in manufacturing and other sectors of the Midwest’s economy — the result of advances in technology, automation and robotics. For states, that means economic growth depends in part on having a highly skilled, adaptable workforce able to keep up with the fast pace of change.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of June, there were 1.5 million job openings in the Midwest (see map for state-by-state data), and many businesses say they can’t find enough people with the necessary skills to fill the vacancies that they have.
Parts of this region, too, have among the lowest unemployment rates in the nation; Ohio’s is actually a bit over the national average, but it’s still only 4.2 percent.
“That basically means we’re at full employment, and that’s really great for the economy,” Cross says. “But the downside is that businesses are [struggling] to grow and find new employees.
“Where are these new employees going to come from?”
The answer to that question, in Ohio and other states, is more complicated than simply relying on new high school or college graduates. “Colleges are not pumping out enough people to fill the new positions that are going to be available in our workforce in the next three to five years,” Wisconsin Sen. Dan Feyen says about the labor market challenges in his state.
“So we need to make sure that we can take people within our existing workforce and put them in jobs where they can excel.”
CSG Midwest
Marysville, Ohio, is home to the first Honda manufacturing plant in America. It opened in 1979 with 64 workers assembling the company’s Motocross motorcycle. Auto production soon followed. Now in its 40th year of production, the original plant, along with several nearby operations, employs 13,000 workers in the northwest part of the state.
Ohio Rep. Jon Cross, whose district lies just north of the Marysville plant, has visited the facility and seen the work being done there. “It’s highly technical, highly skilled,” he notes, more of what one might expect at a tech company rather than a car manufacturer.
More and more, that is the reality of work in manufacturing and other sectors of the Midwest’s economy — the result of advances in technology, automation and robotics. For states, that means economic growth depends in part on having a highly skilled, adaptable workforce able to keep up with the fast pace of change.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of June, there were 1.5 million job openings in the Midwest (see map for state-by-state data), and many businesses say they can’t find enough people with the necessary skills to fill the vacancies that they have.
Parts of this region, too, have among the lowest unemployment rates in the nation; Ohio’s is actually a bit over the national average, but it’s still only 4.2 percent.
“That basically means we’re at full employment, and that’s really great for the economy,” Cross says. “But the downside is that businesses are [struggling] to grow and find new employees.
“Where are these new employees going to come from?”
The answer to that question, in Ohio and other states, is more complicated than simply relying on new high school or college graduates. “Colleges are not pumping out enough people to fill the new positions that are going to be available in our workforce in the next three to five years,” Wisconsin Sen. Dan Feyen says about the labor market challenges in his state.
“So we need to make sure that we can take people within our existing workforce and put them in jobs where they can excel.”
CSG Midwest
With nearly 700,000 workers employed in more than 12,000 firms, Ohio has the third-highest number of manufacturing jobs in the nation. That number, state Rep. Mark Romanchuk says, could be even higher. “Many good-paying manufacturing jobs are going unfilled,” he notes.
Ohio is not alone.
According to the National Association of Manufacturers, 2.4 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled across the nation over the next decade. Among the factors: low unemployment, a shortage of qualified workers, and retirement rates that are outpacing the entry of younger workers into this sector. In addition, despite competitive pay and good benefits, manufacturing jobs are often viewed as being low-skilled and undesirable, carrying the image of dirty factories filled with assembly lines and repetitive work.
Ohio policymakers are hoping to dispel these misconceptions by giving more young people early exposure to real-world, on-the-job experiences. Included as part of this year’s biennial budget bill, HB 166, the Manufacturing Mentorship Program will allow 16- and 17-year-old students to work part-time in manufacturing jobs. Previously, any minor working in a manufacturing facility had to be enrolled in a career technical education program.
CSG Midwest
In Kansas City’s metropolitan area, there is a long history of businesses crossing the Kansas-Missouri border — lured by one of the two states’ tax breaks and financial incentives. “It’s a zero-sum game when incentives are given to move a company just a few miles from where it was,” says Rep. Kristey Williams, a member of the Kansas House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee. “Essentially, taxpayers lose.”
Could this traditional type of interstate competition be replaced by an interstate collaboration, or cease-fire?
Smaller- and large-scale ideas were being proposed in the nation’s state legislatures in early 2019, including a bill known as the “border war bill” in Missouri. Passed by the state Senate in late February, SB 182 would prohibit state incentives from being offered to companies located in four Kansas border counties. Kansas would have to adopt a comparable ban for SB 182 to take effect.
According to Missouri Sen. Mike Cierpot, the bill’s sponsor, the two states have “spent over $335 million shuffling businesses back and forth over state lines … by moving a matter of miles, or in some cases blocks.”
CSG Midwest
In North Dakota, two features of the state’s economy have persisted for years now: some of the lowest jobless rates in the nation, and workforce shortages challenging individual employers and entire economic sectors. 
“By most estimates, we have over 20,000 unfilled jobs,” notes North Dakota Sen. Brad Bekkedahl.
Would scholarships or a loan-forgiveness program — with some strings attached — help fix this mismatch between worker supply and demand? And which of these two options would work best? Those questions were explored during the legislative interim and will likely emerge again when lawmakers convene in early 2019.
CSG Midwest
Ohio lawmakers are hopeful that new blockchain legislation will make the state a leader in developing the emerging technology and attracting businesses that would use it.
CSG Midwest
In a July session that largely examined the future of a cornerstone of the Midwest’s economy, three expert speakers also illustrated to legislators just how far it has come over the past few years. “Manufacturing is coming back to North America,” Mark Denzler, vice president and chief operating officer of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, told lawmakers who attended a meeting of the Midwestern Legislative Conference’s Economic Development Committee.
On the U.S. side of the border, more than 900,000 manufacturing jobs have been created since 2009, an increase of nearly 8 percent. In Canada, manufacturers have added more than 130,000 jobs since June 2013.
Nowhere do these trends matter more than in the MLC’s 11 states (home to one-third of U.S. manufacturing employment) and four affiliate Canadian provinces (which account for more than half of that nation’s jobs in the manufacturing sector).
CSG Midwest
For the first time in 20 years, South Dakota legislators are in line to receive a pay raise — big news in a state that has had one of the lowest legislative compensation levels in the nation. Starting next year, the salaries for South Dakota’s 105 part-time legislators will be adjusted annually to equal 20 percent of the state’s median household income. That means a jump in annual pay from $6,000 in 2018 to an estimated $10,200 in 2019.
CSG Midwest
In some rural parts of Ohio, access to broadband seems a long way off, with entire areas lacking access to high-speed internet service. For other businesses and residents, the infrastructure is frustratingly close, but out of reach.
“We have a marbling effect throughout the rest of the state — even in suburban and urban areas — where we have a street over here or a cluster of homes over there that cannot get broadband infrastructure built out to them,” Ohio Rep. Rick Carfagna explains.
Two separate bills are being considered this year to address those two distinct problems associated with Ohio’s digital divide.
Under HB 378, the state would use some money from its existing Third Frontier Initiative ($50 million for each of the next two years from the proceeds of bond issues) to help fund broadband infrastructure projects in underserved areas of the state.
CSG Midwest
In many Midwestern states, the big policy question surrounding economic development these days isn’t how to create jobs, but how to make sure enough workers are available and ready to fill them.

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