Yes, Virginia, NE Ohio is a manufacturing hub


True or False? Manufacturing remains a productive, viable and growing segment of the economy of the Mahoning Vallley and Northeastern Ohio.

The knee-jerk answer to that question likely would be a resounding “false” from many in our community. That response, of course, is understandable, considering the heavy toll the decline of traditional manufacturing has extracted on our region over the past several decades, particularly in its once thriving steel industry.

But as a quarterly Economic Indicator report from Team NEO released this week illustrated, manufacturing productivity in our region boasts surprisingly robust health. Team NEO, an 18-county economic development organization dedicated to creating jobs in the region, quantified in impressive detail the scope of manufacturing productivity in that report. Among its illuminating findings are these:

Manufacturing makes up 20 percent of our region’s gross regional product, the sum of all goods and services produced here.

Manufacturing accounts for 26 percent of all traded economic sectors in our region, compared with only 18 percent for the United States as a whole.

Manufacturing productivity has jettisoned 92 percent in Northeast Ohio between 1990 and 2015.

One need only take a close look around the Mahoning Valley to show those numbers in action.

Take the sprawling General Motors plant in Lordstown, the Valley’s largest industrial employer, for example. After suffering heavy employment losses from the 1970s and early 2000s, employment there has stabilized and actually grown slightly. Down the road from that Valley mainstay is the new Metalco Corp., which recently opened its new $100 million, 225,000-square-foot state-of-the-art remelt and casting facility. The company clearly knows how to spell productivity with a capital P. When fully operational, the plant is expected to produce more than 1 million pounds of high-quality billet per day.

ADVANCED MANUFACTURING LEADER

But perhaps the biggest and most exciting growth in the manufacturing sector emanates from so-called 3-D printing or additive manufacturing of which the Valley has established itself as a regional and national leader.

With strengths in product manufacturing and design engineering, a project team of technology-based economic development groups including the world-renowned Youngstown Business Incubator, Team NEO and America Makes has brought together businesses, suppliers, service providers and associated institutions to attract and strengthen modern manufacturing throughout our region.

To be sure, not all is rosy for the industrial sector of our region’s economy. A dramatic downturn in drilling activity for oil and natural gas has led to massive layoffs at facilities such as Vallourec in Youngstown. Unfair trade practices have hit production and employment hard at other light and heavy manufacturers in our region. But those disturbing setbacks should not allow us to lose sight of tangible gains elsewhere.

But even though new advanced manufacturing technologies have replaced and downsized the sweaty and labor-intensive workforce of years gone by, manufacturing still maintains a proud and important place at the table of this region’s economic livelihood.

Team NEO and other economic development agencies in our region recognize as much and merit widespread support in their efforts to attract small-, medium- and large-size advanced manufacturers to the region.

To be sure, some of the same assets that made the region an industrial giant in the 20th century continue to hold sway. Prime among these include our location midway between New York and Chicago, well-developed highway and rail-transportation networks and a relatively strong and skilled workforce.

Those strengths continue to serve us well. Even today, the Youngstown/ Warren metro area is home to about 1,000 manufacturers with more than 30,000 employees.

Upon that solid foundation, the Team NEO report indicates that all systems are go for continued growth. By shedding dated definitions of manufacturing and replacing them with new and more productive models, our region can track a promising course for years and decades to come.

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