PERRYSBURG - The worst is over, but the regional economy remains shaky. "We need to learn as fast as the world is learning," said Bowling Green State University Provost Rodney Rogers as he spoke Friday at the 2013 State of the Region Conference, sponsored by BGSU's Center for Regional Development.
|Jeannette Tamayo, Regional Director Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration, Chicago Regional Office, speaks to a crowd during the 11th State of the Region Conference at the Hilton Garden Inn, Levis Commons. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Michael Carroll, director of the center, said that Northwest Ohio has bounced back since the end of the recession in 2009.
Most area counties have rebounded to unemployment rates at under 7 percent overall - better than the 13 percent unemployment in the depths of the recession.
Carroll cautioned the audience that looking solely at unemployment figures can be deceiving.
While the ranks of the unemployed have dropped from 85,000 to just over 40,000 since the end of the recession, "the only way it can be is if we created employment," he said. "But, as you can see, the unemployment numbers aren't that great."
Over the past three years, only 5,000 jobs have been created in Northwest Ohio, largely in Hancock, Fulton, Ottawa, Sandusky and Wood counties.
Wood County has been responsible for 2,100 of those 5,000 new jobs.
At that rate, Carroll said the 17-county Northwest Ohio region won't be back up to pre-recession employment numbers until 2035. "The good news is, it's early 2035," he quipped. He said that employment rates will likely accelerate and the process would not in actuality take nearly as long.
At issue is the size of the labor force, which has shrunk by nearly 6 percent over the last three years - largely because many of the unemployed have stopped looking for work, or some two-worker households have become single-worker households.
Wood County, Carroll said, is seeing an aging population increase. Nearly 19 percent of workers are 54 or older, a jump of 9 percent over 10 years.
"We're making a recovery," he said. "We have to be very careful to not just look at just unemployment rates because we lull ourselves into a sense of false optimism."
Jeanette Tamayo, regional director of the Chicago Regional Office of the U.S. Economic Development Administration, which oversees a six-state region including Ohio, exhorted the benefits of collaborative regionalism. The process involved some "out of the box" thinking.
"It's not about your community, it's about how your community impacts on your neighbors," she said. "It's not the partners that you're comfortable with, it's meeting the new partners" and establishing new investments and opportunities.
"Those (regions) that work together to leverage their resources will fare better than those that do not," Tamayo said. "Clear objectives - do you have a plan, is it actionable? And, most important, is it sustainable?"
She described a number of EDA grants and programs to promote collaboration and regional partnerships.
Communities must be empowered to create their own strategies, Tamayo said - just the sort of opportunities that the EDA is working to foster.
During a business roundtable discussion, Rusty Orben, director of public affairs at CSX Transportation, said that intermodal volume and revenues were up modestly in 2012.
"We're starting to see a justification for the major investments that we're making, including the intermodal in Northwest Ohio," he said. "We see a very favorable market condition for intermodal products" in 2013.
Stan Korducki, president of Wood County Hospital, said changes in health care are exciting. "I don't think we've ever had a more dynamic time in our country" for health care, he said.
Digitization of medical records, an increased number of doctors employed by hospitals rather than in private practice, and alterations in how hospitals are tracked by the government have changed in recent years. The federal health care reform act will also cause a number of issues and pressures for the industry in years to come, he said, especially as many employers are expected to drop health insurance for their workers in favor of forthcoming state insurance exchanges.
The hospital is trying to look for new opportunities to serve the area, Korducki said, including wellness programs for employers and the Falcon Health Center being built in partnership with BGSU.
Bonnie Torti, director of support operations for Whirlpool in Clyde, said that in 2010 the Benton Harbor, Mich.,-based company closed plants in Germany and Mexico and brought that work to the Clyde plant, which manufactures washing machines.
Whirlpool believes that "reshoring is the right way to go" in terms of bringing jobs back to the United States. Having production located domestically rather than internationally enables better quality control, and also saves on expensive transport and shipping costs.
"In our case, we can maintain a stable workforce size at the 3,200 and 3,400 level while still increasing productivity" due to the reshoring efforts.
"We use 1.8 million pounds of steel every day," and 13 million gallons of paint at the Clyde facility each day, she said. "
That ripple effect is profound" because those raw materials are made in Ohio and the region.