A September 2014 Associated Press study found that after a decade that saw nearly four out of every 10 manufacturing jobs leave Ohio, manufacturing employment had begun to grow each year in Ohio since 2011. What was immediately obvious, however, is that many of these new positions bore less and less resemblance to what most consider a "manufacturing job."

JACKSON TWP.  A September 2014 Associated Press study found that after a decade that saw nearly four out of every 10 manufacturing jobs leave Ohio, manufacturing employment had begun to grow each year in Ohio since 2011. What was immediately obvious, however, is that many of these new positions bore less and less resemblance to what most consider a "manufacturing job."

In a gathering of business leaders in October in Green, Daryl Revoldt, executive director, workforce and economic development at Stark State University, described the high-tech factories and machine shops of the today as places where "machines (are) linked by computer(s), every work station has a microscope and a laptop, and each piece being manufactured worth $11,800."

Jackson Township Fiscal Officer Randy Gonzalez agreed that these type jobs - and even higher tech ones - are the type his township is focusing its business attraction and retention efforts on. Still, Gonzalez said, a changed attitude about the breadth of blue collar employment is also needed.

"Assembly line manufacturing, I don’t see that happening in Jackson," he said. "There is still that kind of manufacturing being done, but you see a job that took 100 people now only takes 10 people. And when we put these economic packages together for companies, as a fiscal officer, I am looking at payroll more than what jobs."

Gonzalez was part of a group of leaders from Jackson Township and the city of Canton that five years ago began the process of forming joint economic development district, or JEDD, agreements - tax incentive packages to financially benefit both Canton and Jackson – as a means of attracting companies to, and retaining existing ones in, northern Stark County.

And while high tech positions such as chemists and engineers do make up a large part of the new manufacturing workforce, Gonzalez said companies like Stolle Manufacturing represent the other side of the coin.

"They manufacture machinery that makes beer and pop can parts," Gonzalez said. "They left Canton and were looking for a building in Stark County when they were able to come to Jackson."

As part of the JEDD agreement, which was finalized earlier this month, Gonzalez said both Canton and Jackson will share in income tax revenues generated by the Stolle move. Such arrangements between communities are vital, Gonzalez said, in the midst of this rapidly changing manufacturing landscape.

"Obviously, the state of Ohio helps with tax incentives, but we are trying to keep jobs in Stark County," he said. "The thing we’re trying to do with Canton is not be so territorial in our thinking. That would have been unheard of in years past, but we have to work together if we are going to have much success; Stolle could have been heading out of the state."

Meanwhile, Gonzalez said, a project like the planned extension of Strip Avenue and the resultant marketing of a large swath of land between Portage and Applegrove streets for commercial and industrial development creates an additional sector of the manufacturing workforce.

"Quite frankly, most jobs that are created are construction jobs, with a lot of retail and retail management," Gonzalez said. "This is not new for Jackson Township, but it certainly is for the city of Canton. But we are looking for all types of jobs that will bolster income tax."

Changing face of industry

Companies like Canton-based Radial Engine Innovations – which has plans to open a "state-of-the-art manufacturing and warehousing facility," to be located on an estimated eight acres, possibly at the city of Green’s Port Green at CAK International Business Park, off Greensburg Road – seem to indicate that while it may not look like your father or grandfather’s factory, manufacturing innovation and production is still at least alive, and in many ways well, in Northeast Ohio.

REI President Mitch Boulton said the planned expansion is expected to begin within the next two years and create approximately 1,100 positions, including an estimated 850 full-time REI employees and 250 new jobs during the construction phase of the project.

Municipal leaders have recognized, and in many cases redoubled efforts in recent years, to capitalize on these sorts of trends.

"We have to support our businesses and we have to have partnerships with them," said Green Mayor Gerard Neugebauer. "In all things, we have to think about how our community can help make their business environment attractive to the people who work for them. It goes back to (asking), 'What is going to keep them here and attract others?' That is everything from roads, to good schools, and things like the (Akron-Canton) airport."

At an Oct. 21 "Open for Business" discussion in Green, Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro echoed the sentiments of Neugebauer and Gonzalez, encouraging communication and cooperation between neighboring communities and reimagining age-old anti-poaching attitudes in the pursuit of more regional business growth and economic success.

"When, for example, Hudson gets a lead on a business but they don’t have the land, what often happens is when the project doesn’t (immediately) work, it dies," Shapiro said. "We need to (begin considering potential sites) elsewhere in the county."

New view of traditional roles

But where does all this leave the traditional manufacturing worker of any age – from the machinist nearing retirement to the high school student who does not exactly see a four-year college education in their future?

The 2014 AP study reported that Ohio lost 166,000 manufacturing jobs, a 20 percent drop, between 2007 and 2009, according to the state's Department of Jobs and Family Services. At the time of the study, it had regained about 50,000, and Ohio was among the top 20 states in job growth since 2011 – ahead of neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

In addition, the report stated, annual wages for those in manufacturing rose by about $5,500 from 2006 to 2012, an 11 percent gain.

But at the same time, the state had 1,700 fewer manufacturing locations, a 10 percent drop. Moreover, Cleveland economist George Zeller was quoted in the study as saying it would take 63 years at Ohio’s current rate of job growth to recover all the manufacturing jobs lost in the state since 2000.

Part of the overall picture, according to Gonzalez, is the perception young people have of a manufacturing career.

"When I talk to seniors at Jackson High School and ask, ‘how many of you are going to college?’ every hand goes up," he said. "When I say, ‘how many of you are coming back here when you graduate?’ no hands go up. They say there are none of the jobs here that they are going off to college for. But there are millions of jobs, many of which I consider skilled trades, that nobody is applying for."

Ben Moore, Superintendent of the Portage Lakes Career Center, said recent partnerships between schools, municipalities and local companies are the key to future economic growth, particularly in the manufacturing sector, Moore said.

"We are developing lifelong learning with skills for career and college success," Moore said at an October gathering of business leaders in Green. "Those are not mutually exclusive."

Gonzalez agreed.

"We’ve done away with vocations and convinced every kid to become a doctor or a lawyer – we have to rethink that," he said. "Every generation wants the next one to be better, but who is to say what’s better – an electrician or a lawyer? A carpenter or a lawyer?"