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‘A Powerhouse That’s Poised for Growth’

June 9, 2021
Manufacturing is Northeast Ohio’s legacy and smart manufacturing its promise, say region’s leaders.

Manufacturing still makes up a large part of the economy in Northeast Ohio, just as it does in many other Midwestern regions. It also directly and indirectly supports one million jobs in the region, which includes Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown, and makes up 38% of Ohio’s GDP. But it faces persistent challenges: namely, a talent gap and the slow adoption of innovative technologies.

In January 2020, almost 60% of manufacturers in Northeast Ohio said they couldn’t find the skilled workers they need to grow—an obstacle that even widespread COVID-19-related layoffs didn’t solve. Meanwhile, investing in new technologies is near the bottom of the priority list for the vast majority of manufacturers in the region, according to the Ohio MEP 2020 Manufacturing Survey. Seventy-five percent of manufacturers surveyed said that innovation is not a top priority for their companies.

The region’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the Manufacturing and Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET), is among those leading the charge to change that stagnancy and set the region on a strong path to smart manufacturing. Its Make It Better Blueprint brings together insights from 100s of manufacturing CEOs, community and business leaders, academics, workers, students and non-profit leaders, with a vision to “revitalize Northeast Ohio as a leader in smart manufacturing, create thousands of jobs and transform the industry.”

“Manufacturing in Northeast Ohio has had its ups and downs, but the fact of the matter is the region remains a powerhouse that’s poised for growth,” Ethan Karp, president and CEO of MAGNET, said in a statement. “We’ve got all the pieces in place, but to make it happen we’ve got to bridge the talent gap, adopt cutting-edge technologies, and embrace innovation. While no one organization can change the course of our industry, it’s our hope that the stories, expertise, and detailed strategies presented in this Blueprint can show us all what’s possible in Northeast Ohio – and encourage us to work together to build a brighter future.”

The Blueprint groups its insights and solutions around four key areas: talent, technology transformation, innovation, and leadership. The hope is that stakeholders throughout the region can use the report to guide collaborative efforts.

The full report, with insights from Lincoln Electric, Jergens, GOJO and many others, can be found here.

IndustryWeek is sharing the introduction from "Make Our Region Better: A Blueprint for Manufacturing in Northeast Ohio." It ambitiously encapsulates the history of industry in America’s older cities, sheds light on the importance and vibrance of manufacturing in the U.S. economy today and lights a way forward, building on real strengths in the face of challenges that are well-told:

Manufacturing in Northeast Ohio: We Make Our Region Better

Northeast Ohio was the Silicon Valley of the early 1900s. Lured by burgeoning big oil and steel, innovators came here from all over the world to chase their dreams. Cleveland led the country in patent registrations and what we now call venture capital. It even opened its own stock exchange. By the 1940s, the Mahoning “Steel Valley” was one of the most productive industrial centers in the world. Akron was the global rubber capital.

We were the industrial engine that drove America for decades, until we crashed. In the ’70s and ’80s, automation, offshoring, and the death of big steel made us a national symbol of the demise of the middle class. We became famous for a name no one likes: the Rust Belt. But we didn’t give up. Fueled by a legacy of grit and ingenuity, Northeast Ohio rebuilt the manufacturing industry. Gone are the one-smokestack towns where everyone works for one plant. They’ve been replaced by a thriving network of 10,000 innovative companies making aircraft parts to X-rays and everything in between. Yes, far fewer people work in manufacturing. But wages and productivity are higher than they’ve ever been.

We fought through the Great Recession. We survived the global pandemic. And today, we stand on the cusp of a tremendous opportunity. As we rebuild our post-COVID-19 industry, the big question is this: Who do we want to be next? That’s the question this Blueprint for Manufacturing in Northeast Ohio sets out to answer. And we believe the answer is clear: We want the future to be made here in Northeast Ohio. By our people, in our factories. We want to make more of the things that run the world. We want to, once again, be a place where innovators bring big ideas from all over the world. We want to create thousands more high-tech manufacturing jobs. We want to lead the world in smart manufacturing – leaving behind the Rust Belt to become the Manufacturing Technology Belt.

Despite all the ups and downs, manufacturing remains a powerhouse in the region. It creates 270,000 jobs, and every one of those jobs delivers four more in the community – that’s more than one million jobs in Northeast Ohio. As a result, it drives half the regional economy. We have a rich legacy of manufacturing know-how, world-class educational institutions, and a solid industrial base to build on. But the future is coming fast, and we need to be ready.

First, there’s a talent time bomb approaching. In January 2020, almost 60% of Northeast Ohio manufacturers said they couldn’t find the skilled workers they need to grow. Despite COVID layoffs, that problem persists. The talent shortage is so systemic and significant that even the pandemic couldn’t wipe it out. Plus, a looming wave of retirements is set to make this worse. Second, a manufacturing revolution is being fueled by emerging Industry 4.0 technologies, such as collaborative robots, sensors, 3D printing, and big data. These technologies are the foundation of future competitiveness, but Northeast Ohio manufacturers are not adopting them fast enough – particularly the small- and medium-sized companies that make up the bulk of our regional industry. And third, as an industry we’re simply not innovating far enough or fast enough. In fact, 75% of Northeast Ohio manufacturers say that innovation is not a top priority.

On top of these challenges, COVID-19 has created economic chaos and forced us to change the way we work. America is also facing a national reckoning on racism. The sad reality is that people of color have less access to jobs, healthcare, and opportunities. And we see it in manufacturing, which is 83% white. We can help change this by connecting the thousands of underemployed and unemployed people of color in our region to careers in manufacturing. Manufacturing can be a positive force for change.

As an industry we face a powerful moment of truth. We can simply rebuild and bounce back to the way we were. Or we can use the accelerating forces of this unique time to leap forward. The pandemic was a stark reminder of the need to reestablish local supply chains. It has reignited a desire to buy American and bring home jobs from overseas. Smart manufacturing technologies are the only way Northeast Ohio manufacturers can compete globally on quality and price. Now is the time to transform our factories, train a new generation of high-tech talent, and innovate to make things that haven’t been made here in decades. Now is the time to reinvent our industry and fuel a true manufacturing revival.

Yes, it’s a bold vision. But the hundreds of manufacturing CEOs, business leaders, community leaders, educators, and workers that helped create this vision are committed to making it happen. We believe that within a decade, Northeast Ohio can lead the world in smart manufacturing. That we can finally close the talent gap and have all the skilled workers we need to grow. That our factories can be as diverse as our cities. That manufacturing can give everyone a pathway to prosperity. That we can be one of the fastest growing and most innovative manufacturing hubs in the world.

But, to unlock this future, we require massive systemic change in four areas: talent, transformation, innovation, and leadership. We need to build the workforce we need to win in the future. We need to use Industry 4.0 technologies to unlock advantage and fuel reshoring. We need to pioneer new products and services, and new ways of working. And we need to boldly lead our companies and region.

Why do we believe we can do this? Because we’ve done it before. We are masters of the comeback. We’ve been reinventing ourselves since the advent of our industry. And all the stories we share in this report have one thing in common: They prove that everything we need to lead the world in smart manufacturing is already here. It’s already happening. We just need to come together as a community and as an industry and do much more of it. With strategic investment and radical collaboration, there is no question Northeast Ohio can lead the way and lead the world in smart manufacturing. We just have to do what we do best: Make It Better.

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