“Supporting talent growth, retention, and attraction is necessary for our region to maintain its economic momentum. This is an effort that will require strong partnerships and cooperation across industry, academia, K-12 education, and a long list of additional partners. It’s critical we get this right.”
Sullivan was one of 20 people this news outlet interviewed from the business, real estate, economic development, government, social services, academic, performing arts and financial sectors about the Dayton/Springfield/Butler County region’s economic outlook for 2024.
Credit: Knack Video + Photo
Credit: Knack Video + Photo
There is broad optimism about the year ahead, especially as the economy continues to grow, inflation lessens and the Federal Reserve signaled it may lower interest rates that it began raising in March 2022 in an effort to tamp down inflation.
“High interest rates have impacted the lives of every American by making it more difficult and more expensive to buy a car, buy or rent a home, and buy or rent property to start a business. For a community like Dayton, which has long utilized our low cost of living to attract talent, entrepreneurs and workers, this has made it all the more difficult to stand out,” said Stephanie Keinath, vice president of strategic initiatives at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
“With the Fed signaling rate cuts in 2024, we’re hopeful that easing will give folks the confidence to make some of these key investments.”
Thousands of new jobs
There’s a lot of excitement about the jobs that are coming, including 2,000 planned by Joby Aviation Inc., which will manufacture electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft in Montgomery County; 2,200 at the Honda/LG Solution electric vehicle battery plant being built in Fayette County and 3,000 at Intel’s semiconductor plants under construction in Licking County near Columbus. All are expected to need employees and supply chain companies from the Dayton/Springfield/Butler County region.
“These are all wins for the Miami Valley. They show the incredible location, highway access, aviation history, higher education and sciences of the past and present right here in Dayton influencing why companies want to land here,” said Kelly McCormick, president of Dayton Realtors and vice president of operations at Coldwell Banker Heritage.
“The concern here is always housing availability; we need to see an increase in housing inventory and more new construction entering our communities to support Miami Valley job growth.”
Workforce needs are entwined with issues around housing affordability and availability as well as challenges faced in the commercial real estate business as remote work has transformed workplaces and emptied out some office buildings.
“A lot is riding on keeping the housing market stable and moving forward,” McCormick said. “Commercial sales in Dayton have been slow for the past few years as people have changed their work locations and companies have reorganized themselves after COVID-19.”
Companies trying to attract and keep workers are looking at ways to create more open and collaborative space, as well as adopting flexibility that allows workers to be remote at least part of the time, said Dave Dickerson, president-business development at Miller-Valentine Construction.
“Companies are trying to begin to move forward and lure their employment base back into the office either full time or part time in some form or fashion,” Dickerson said. “So they’re having to invest, quite frankly, in their space and facilities to do that.”
Workforce is perennial challenge
Attracting and retaining a skilled workforce has long been an issue in the region, with business owners bemoaning the problems they have finding employees with the right skills and who will show up to work on time every day.
But COVID-19 pandemic-related economic disruptions exacerbated the problem as many people left the workforce altogether, record numbers quit jobs in the search for a better one, wage competition became fierce and companies found it increasingly difficult to fill jobs.
“The challenge we have is we have a tight labor market. We’re seeing that unemployment remains low combined with a labor shortage (that) puts pressure on wages. That’s one of the biggest challenges we’re facing across our region,” said David Melin, PNC regional president for Dayton.
“We have an excellent quality of life in our region and low cost of living but we need to find new and creative ways to promote the growing labor market.”
In 2022 the region’s five-year Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy set workforce development and talent attraction and retention as a top priority for Auglaize, Butler, Champaign, Clark, Clinton, Darke, Greene, Mercer, Miami, Montgomery, Preble, Shelby and Warren counties.
The CEDS, which is required to access certain federal funds and technical assistance, called for increasing efforts in K-12 and post-secondary education to better prepare students for the jobs that exist now and in the future, as well as lowering the cost of post-high school education and removing barriers to work by improving access to quality, affordable child care, transportation and affordable housing.
“One thing everyone can do is to help our young people, high school and middle school students especially, learn about the job opportunities here and how they can build an exciting career in the region,” said Sullivan, who co-wrote the CEDS. “We want every young adult to see a place for themselves in our local economy and show them their dream job is right here.”
College is expensive and can be out of reach for people who are not eligible for government grants and worry about taking on debt to pay for college. But while a solution for that problem remains elusive, officials emphasize that not every job requires a four-year degree.
Two-year degree programs can be more affordable. And high-school career technology programs and local colleges and universities are bolstering their traditional offerings with training for non-degree, industry-recognized credentials.
Training programs funded at the federal, state and local levels have also multiplied in recent years.
Programs exist for companies to train current and prospective employees, for retraining people who’ve lost jobs, and that offer an array of internships and apprenticeships.
Educators increasingly collaborate with businesses. For example Intel provided workforce grants to a number of Ohio colleges, including multiple ones in this region, to prepare students to work at the company.
“I think our schools and our companies are probably working together better than they have before,” said Jody Gunderson, director of economic development for the city of Hamilton.
Steve Staub, president of Staub Manufacturing Solutions in Dayton, said there needs to be more funding for collaborations that get kids excited about careers.
“I’m involved with a program called XtremeSTEM that focuses on programs to get middle school and high school students involved in advanced manufacturing careers. We are seeing great results,” Staub said. “At Hayward Middle School in Springfield we have the kids building and flying drones as well as battling robots.”
A jobs and readiness task force involving the Greater Springfield Partnership and the Clark County’s Ohio Means Jobs program is in its second year of implementation, said Tom Franzen, Springfield assistant city manager and director of development.
“We’re hopeful that there is some success in convincing residents who commute outside of Springfield-Clark County to find a great job here locally,” Franzen said.
Montgomery County’s programs provide job training, help with resume writing and interview skills, connect workers with jobs and encourage youth to finish high school.
“There is growth in the job market and more retirees are aging out of the workforce, eliciting a higher demand for new people. The result is there are plenty of work opportunities for young people leaving high school or college, as well as those working or training in the construction trades, or people who already have a skill,” said Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert.
“The county continues to invest heavily in programs like YouthWorks and Adult Job training, so we can meet that demand.”
He said the county opened workforce job training centers in neighborhoods, like the Westown Employment Opportunity Center in west Dayton and the Business Solutions Center in south Dayton, and will soon open the Madison Lakes Employment Center in northwest Dayton.
The county’s Project Hire Program assists companies by paying the training costs for employees.
“We will continue to incentivize local businesses who look to upskill their workforce,” Colbert said. “Upskill opportunities for employees benefit the company because they have a higher skilled worker and it benefits the employee because it means higher wages. Plus, it benefits all taxpayers because fewer people will need financial assistance from the government.”
Reaching the unemployed
Montgomery and Clark counties’ 3.3% unemployment rates in December were highest in the 9-county region, topping the state’s 3.1% rate, according to non-seasonally adjusted data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
It sometimes can be a challenge to get unemployed people to take advantage of the training programs, said Jan Lepore-Jentleson, executive director of East End Community Services in Dayton.
“There are folks who are not working that are on the margin. There are so many barriers in their lives I think they’ve given up,” she said. “They just don’t even try.”
There also may be a steep learning curve for people who feel technology has left them behind and that they wouldn’t be able to handle a fast-paced training program, she said.
Her non-profit social services organization is working to overcome that inertia, by talking to clients about their well-being, asking them what they would like to see change in their lives and then coaching them in ways to work toward that goal and navigate the steps to get involved in training programs.
“We can help them see how that change will be beneficial to them,” Lepore-Jentleson said. “Until people can see a different future in their lives we don’t see that they are going to take advantage of things that are out there like those great job training programs that exist.”
Some said the region also needs to do more to get the word out about the region’s assets, to convince people who don’t live here to come here to live and work, and to convince companies it is a great place to do business.
“Business tends to care about a handful of things: workforce, safety, affordability and amenities,” said Kevin Willardsen, associate professor of economics at Wright State University. “A critical look at Dayton reveals that we are well-suited to nearly all of these needs. Dayton has the capacity to train any size workforce the region may need.”
“Dayton is capable of making anything,” Willardsen said. “It’s the Gem City for a reason.”
|Ben Ayers, senior economist at Nationwide Insurance
|Whitney Barkley, director of the Greater West Dayton Incubator
|Doug Barry, owner of BarryStaff
|Itzhak Ben-David, professor of finance at Ohio State University
|Michael Colbert, Montgomery County administrator
|Dave Dickerson, president-business development at Miller-Valentine Construction
|Levi Duncan, owner and CEO of Liberty Remodeling in Springfield
|Tom Franzen, Springfield assistant city manager and director of development
|Matt Greeson, Kettering city manager
|Jody Gunderson, Hamilton director of economic development
|Stephanie Keinath, vice president of strategic initiatives at Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce
|Jan Lepore-Jentleson, executive director of East End Community Services
|Kelly McCormick, president of Dayton Realtors
|David Melin, PNC regional president for Dayton
|Lisha Morlan, Middletown assistant director of economic development
|Patrick Nugent, president and CEO of the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance
|Steve Staub, president of Staub Manufacturing Solutions in Dayton
|Julie Sullivan, executive vice president of regional development at Dayton Development Coalition
|Kevin Willardsen, associate professor of economics at Wright State University
|Jason Woodard, principal at Woodard Development
SEE THE STORIES IN THIS SERIES
Dayton and surrounding region economic outlook is strong for 2024
New jobs, tight labor market keep workforce at top of region’s priorities in 2024
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