By Burton Speakman
The Mahoning Valley’s economy is growing faster than any other part of Ohio, at least one analyst says.
The Valley is the only part of the state that has seen decreases in the number of people filing for unemployment consistently the last two months, said George Zeller, Cleveland-based economic research analyst.
“I’ve been saying all over the state that the Mahoning Valley is the fastest-growing part of the state,” he said. “People gasp when I say it.”
Unemployment rates for Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties collectively decreased from 9.7 percent in April 2011 to 7.9 percent for April 2012.
The number of unemployed was down by nearly 5,000 to 20,800, and the area gained 2,100 jobs, according to Ohio labor-market information provided by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The labor force in the Mahoning Valley decreased by 3,000 workers.
Trumbull County had the lowest unemployment rate of the three counties at 7.6 percent, followed by Mahoning at 8.1 percent and Columbiana at 8.3 percent. The previous year, the rates were 9.5 percent, 9.6 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively, according to the JFS department.
Although the recovery locally and throughout Ohio has been positive, it also has been slow.
“The recent changes have been good, but there are still a number of problems in the Mahoning Valley,” Zeller said. The current pace of growth does not have the area fully recovered for 24 years.
“It’s going to take years to overcome the huge losses that occurred previously,” he said. “We need to speed up the recovery.”
The local numbers, however, may be skewed by issues with the state figures. Somehow, the state’s unemployment rate decreased in a month when the state lost jobs, Zeller said.
“Those figures will be readjusted, and some of the unusual aspects will go away,” he said.
Manufacturing has been leading the way in terms of the recovery in the Valley, Zeller said.
Companies such as General Motors and V&M Star have had a big impact.
The information cited about manufacturing generating growth in the Valley backs what the Mahoning Valley Manufacturing Coalition has been hearing from its members, said Jessica Borza, coalition executive director.
“Our members have been telling us that they’ve been experiencing growth,” she said. “This puts an exclamation point on what we’ve been saying.”
In addition, there are several manufacturing companies that serve as suppliers for the large companies, which further increases the potential for an increase or decrease in employment based on the actions of one manufacturer, Borza said.
A recent report from the Brookings Institution about manufacturing shows how far the area has come the past two years.
Manufacturing jobs increased by 11.7 percent between the first quarter of 2010 and the fourth quarter of 2011. The increase ranked third nationally, according to Brookings, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit public-policy organization.
The report also shows how far the area has to go before it is back to its prior position. The Mahoning Valley had lost 46.2 percent of manufacturing jobs by 2010 compared to a decade earlier, according to the Brookings report.
“The biggest thing that’s holding down the economic recovery now is government,” Zeller said. “We could not pick a worse time to cut government spending in the USA and in Ohio, since it is slowing down our rate of recovery at the moment.”
In the three-county area, there was a loss of 291 local government jobs, 141 federal government jobs and 684 state government jobs in the third quarter of 2011 compared to the previous year, according to statistics provided by Zeller. These were the most recent employment figures available broken down by industry.
Within the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office, there are at least 40 positions that have been cut or not filled, said Sgt. T.J. Assion, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 141.
When public cuts occur for Mahoning County and the city of Youngstown, public safety is the first thing cut, he said.