top photo SOTR
Larry Triplett, Executive Director of the MCBI, leads an engaging open forum discussing workforce problems, ideas and solutions at the Fourth Annual State of the Region Conference on May 12, 2015.

State of the Region Conference at OHIO addresses manufacturing renaissance

by Sarah Lack
May 18, 2015

In his keynote address during the Appalachian Ohio State of the Region Conference, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams introduced himself as a native of Youngstown, Ohio, and shared a revelation: He was a penguin in bobcat territory.

“In nature, any time a penguin might wander into the land of bobcats, it probably wouldn’t end well for the penguin,” Williams laughed. “As a Youngstown State University Penguin, thank you for welcoming me to the land of the Ohio University Bobcats.”

Williams, who was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as the administrator of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), delivered his keynote address focusing on federal efforts to strengthen the manufacturing sector by supporting workforce training and initiatives that provide communities with resources to prepare for the future.

More than 150 participants attended the May 12 Appalachian Ohio State of the Region Conference, presented by the Ohio University Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, in partnership with the EDA University Center. The event offered statewide public officials, regional economic development personnel and representatives from other businesses and organizations an opportunity to learn about the theme “Manufacturing Workforce: Building Capacity” in a series of panel discussions and presentations.

“Building workforce capacity in the manufacturing center is important not only in this region, but also in the state of Ohio and the competitiveness of this country,” Williams said. “Ensuring robust economic growth, thriving middle class and broadly shared prosperity will require a significant expansion of skills and knowledge American workers possess over the next two decades.”

Helping workers capitalize on the American renaissance of manufacturing has been a top priority of the Obama administration, Williams explained. In particular, developing a workforce with specific and relevant skill sets is necessary to keep the U.S. exceptionally competitive.

“The EDA brings together stakeholders like business leaders, educational leaders, workforce and economic development organizations, local governments as well as the philanthropic community to prepare workers for American jobs that are not only in demand today, but will be in demand for the foreseeable future,” Williams said.

According to Williams, workforce development is a top priority for the Department of Commerce, which is working with the business community in new ways.

“Employers now a part of the discussion from the beginning,” Williams said. “They are helping develop curricula and programs to train workers for jobs.”

Several initiatives were recently launched in partnership with the Department of Commerce to accelerate industry-led workforce development and training efforts. One of those programs, the Workforce Strategies Initiative, was created in partnership with the Aspen Institute to shape America’s workforce development strategies and practices to enhance outcomes that enable low-income adults to successfully complete training programs and access quality jobs.

In addition, the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership was launched 18 months ago to encourage regions to align themselves along relevant manufacturing trends to bring stakeholders together in a way that focus and promote assets within communities and tie them to an initiative of national significance, Williams said.

Another initiative, launched this month in Kentucky, is the Obama administration’s response to the transformation of the nation’s energy profile.

“Some communities have relied on fossil fuels as a part of their economy and may be in for a difficult transition as the country’s reliance on fossil fuels lessens,” Williams said. “The POWER Initiative will provide resources to help these communities in the transition to diversify their economies.”

For Williams, this initiative in particular hits home.

“I remember when steel production dropped in Youngstown,” he said. “Cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Gary, Indiana, were some of the many affected. There was no coordinated federal response then – we are working to change that for the future.”

In closing, Williams noted that the U.S. economy has seen 62 months of private sector growth – a reminder of how far the Obama administration has come since the years of economic decline and job loss. The renaissance of U.S. manufacturing is happening, he said.

“The state of our region is full of opportunities and is growing stronger,” Williams said. “But the state of our region also faces significant challenges.”

The only way to overcome those challenges, according to Williams, is through a focused strategy with collaboration among government agencies, the private sector and local communities.

“Ultimately, the United States economy is made up of its regional economies,” Williams said. “And when the regional economies thrive, the country thrives.”

Videos of the conference can be found on the Voinovich School YouTube Channel.

For additional images of the State of the Region Conference, visit the Voinovich School Flickr page.

For a recap of the conference, visit the State of the Region Storify page.