By JORDYN GRZELEWSKI
Architects of a new plan to accelerate Ohio’s economic growth point to work being done in the Youngstown area as an example of something that should be scaled up statewide.
The Ohio Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation today unveiled Ohio BOLD, what it calls “a blueprint for accelerating the innovation economy.”
The report, the nonprofit organization’s first large-scale research project, identifies innovation as the key to catching up Ohio’s economic growth to the national average.
The primary recommendation is the state create four statewide innovation hubs focusing on four areas the report calls “opportunity platforms” – next-generation manufacturing and materials, future health, smart infrastructure and data analytics.
“NextGen manufacturing is the area where we really look to Youngstown as a model of that,” said Elliot Reed, a foundation board member and program manager for the REDI zone, a public-private partnership at Northeast Ohio Medical University.
The report notes America Makes, housed on the Youngstown Business Incubator campus, is a national leader in advanced manufacturing and 3-D printing technology, as an example of a successful initiative “that would benefit the entire state if scaled up.”
YBI CEO Barb Ewing said the research was inclusive and “forward-thinking” by recognizing the promise of areas such as advanced manufacturing which are not quite yet their own industry clusters.
“We are pre-cluster. So the fact that it is baked in here is really important for the overall message that goes out to the state,” she said.
The report notes that as new technologies have disrupted industries and innovation has played an ever-larger role in economic growth, Ohio has fallen behind in indicators such as population growth, growth in per capita income, real wage growth, and median household income.
“Relative to the nation, Ohio has been growing, but at a slower rate,” Reed said.
The research notes Ohio’s population between 1991 and 2016 grew 6.1 percent, compared with 27.7 percent for the U.S. overall. It also notes Ohio’s average wage grew 17 percent in that time period, compared with 26 percent nationwide.
With a new governor taking office next year, the foundation commissioned the research from TEConomy Partners LLC, with the goal of putting together a blueprint the new administration can use to make Ohio an innovation leader.
The foundation presented the plan to both gubernatorial candidates, Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray, this week.
The research process involved numerous chambers of commerce, including the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, and other stakeholders across the state.
Ohio BOLD, noting that “innovation is the key driver of economic growth,” details three strategies on how the state can bolster innovation.
The primary strategy is to create the four statewide innovation hubs.
Foundation officials said the plan does not treat the hubs as geographic entities, but as areas where existing innovation can grow.
As Katie Koglman, foundation executive director, put it: “How can we take what you’re doing here in Youngstown and scale it?”
The organization also identified a need for more funding opportunities for entrepreneurs, especially at levels beyond seed funding.
The third component of the plan focuses on developing, retaining and attracting talent to meet Ohio’s industry demands.
The plan includes a number of action items for each strategy, as well as possible funding sources.
Those involved in the research say much of the funding already exists and simply needs to be redirected. One such source is a state Research & Development Bond, a significant funding source for YBI, that expires next year. The plan recommends voters be asked to renew the bond.
Now that the research foundation has presented its findings, it is up to organizations such as the state chamber of commerce and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber to lobby on its behalf.
“Our hope and belief is they will take pieces and parts and do that advocacy with politicians,” Koglman said.
James Dignan, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, said his agency supports the blueprint and will advocate for it.