Loss of manufacturing jobs impacts Ohio
Mercer and Auglaize counties are among only nine Ohio counties with more manufacturing jobs today than in 2000, with none in northeast Ohio. These counties are spread across the state: Butler is in the southwest; Darke is in the west; Delaware, Knox and Madison are in the central part of the state, while Guernsey and Holmes are in the southeast.
In most Ohio counties, the ranks of blue-collar workers have steadily dwindled. Overall, manufacturing employment in the state shrank by a third from 2000 to 2017.
Many of the state’s large urban counties saw much greater losses. Montgomery County, where Dayton is the county seat, lost nearly half of the 57,000 manufacturing jobs it had in 2000.
Trumbull County saw manufacturing jobs plummet by two-thirds, or nearly 20,000.
Cuyahoga County lost the most manufacturing jobs of any county: nearly 50,000, a 43 percent drop since 2000.
“The loss of manufacturing in Cuyahoga County has been a continuous process over a period of time,” said Cleveland economist George Zeller, who has studied the state’s manufacturing trends for years. “It has hit just about everywhere. Large, urban counties have suffered.”
In terms of percentage drop in blue-collar jobs, no county has taken a bigger hit than Monroe. In 2000, the Bureau of Labor Statistics counted an average of 2,301 manufacturing jobs in Monroe County. Last year there were 11.
James Barrows is among the statistics.
He was 57 when the Ormet Primary Aluminum Corp. in Monroe County laid him off in 2004, after 28 years pouring hot aluminum into molds. The plant shut its doors in 2014. A second plant, Consolidated Aluminum Corp., closed in 2005. More than 2,500 employees worked at the two plants at their peaks.
“I didn’t know what to do. It was so hard on my family,” Barrows said. “[Now] there are a few jobs around, but they don’t offer benefits. Several years ago, you could quit one job with benefits today and start another one (the next day). You can’t even think about doing that today.”
Since he was laid off, he has worked several jobs. Today, at 71, he works three, 12-hour shifts per week as a security officer at a drilling site in Belmont County, just north of Monroe County. He said he does it to stay active and because he enjoys it. He realizes he is lucky to have work.
Darrell Craig, 74, deals with the impact of plant closings every Wednesday. He runs the food pantry at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Woodsfield. Over a month’s time, about 150 families show up for groceries. The pantry is one of four in the county.
“For a small county, that’s a lot of people who need help,” Craig said.
‘A day at a time’
James McIntire is 45 and lives in Woodsfield in Monroe County. He has struggled to find consistent work for seven years.
“I live a day at a time,” he said. “I will work a day here, a day there. I have built log cabins. I have worked construction, drove a truck. “
William Calvert knows the challenge well. At 89, he lives in his century-old home near Woodsfield. He worked as a typesetter at the Monroe County Beacon and delivered mail for years.
He empathizes with the county’s high school students.
“It would be a pretty tough proposition to find a job here (to support a family),” he said.
So why has Monroe County’s recovery from the closing of the aluminum plants and the staggering coal industry been such a struggle?
Stettner, of the Century Foundation, said one key reason for Monroe County and other communities in Appalachia is a lack of investment capital to attract and grow jobs.
Much of that stems from its topography. Companies have a tough time getting products in and out of Ohio’s rugged Appalachia region, economists said. Woodsfield is more than 30 miles, and at least 45 minutes, away from the nearest major interstate, I-77. The county does, however, take advantage of its proximity to the Ohio River.
‘A large ripple effect’
Monroe County’s struggles are similar to many rural communities in the Midwest that had one or two large plants, employing hundreds of workers.
“When those plants close, it really hits a community hard,” Stettner said. “It goes beyond the people who work in those factories. It hits the stores and restaurants and small businesses.”
In the streets of Woodsfield, storefronts are occupied, but on a day in September, there is little shopping traffic.
“You can definitely see it in our communities; they’ve taken a hit,” said Monroe County Commissioner Mick Schumacher. “The plant shutdowns took the wind out of our sails.”
Schumacher’s colleague, Commissioner Carl Davis, said the effect has been felt throughout the region for years. “We’re in Appalachia, and we tend to have been forgotten,” he said, referring to support from state and federal governments.
Hard times are nothing new to Appalachia because of its long-time dependence on coal mining, which hit its peak workforce in Ohio in 1918, according to the Ohio Coal Association.
Through the decades, as the mining jobs steadily disappeared, so did the people. The 1900 census counted 27,031 people living in Monroe County, nearly twice as many as today.
Hope for an economic resurgence was kindled this decade by the development of new drilling techniques, such as hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, which have opened up vast quantities of oil and natural gas within the Marcellus and deeper Utica shale formations that lie beneath large stretches of Appalachia, from Pennsylvania and West Virginia into Ohio.
Gov. John Kasich was optimistic about tapping new underground wealth in Appalachia.
“We’re talking about a generation who have lived in poverty, and this is an opportunity to pull them out, he told the Associated Press in 2011.
Kasich downplayed concerns about possible water contamination and other health and safety problems caused by fracking, which requires injecting millions of gallons of chemically treated water to break oil and gas free from the shale deposits. He said he was confident regulations could safeguard public health and the environment.
Critics doubt the new generation of oil and gas drilling will fulfill the promise of jobs.
That’s because many of the high-paying jobs involving the construction of the drilling rigs and pipelines are filled by employees of out-of-state companies who specialize in the work.
The drilling, however, has been a handsome windfall for some Monroe County landowners. So has the sale of mineral rights, county officials said. Some residents are making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, they say.
“They just won’t tell you about it; they don’t want their neighbors to know,” said Pandora Neuhart, the Monroe County auditor. “You see people make new purchases, build new houses. They make donations.”
Since 2000, businesses have drilled 967 oil and gas wells in Monroe County, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Those fracking rigs, some as high as 150 feet, pierce the hillsides in the county in search of profits.
Residents talk about huge oil and construction trucks rumbling through the region, pounding the roads and ignoring signs that prohibit the vehicles.
Kathy Hoskins, 63, of Clarington, a village off the Ohio River, said the industry is wrecking the landscape off of state Route 536, where she grew up and lives.
Hope for the future
Residents and officials in Monroe County are hopeful more jobs are in their future. A Thailand-based company, PTT Global Chemical, has spent $100 million on engineering work to determine whether a site in Dilles Bottom, a small town in neighboring Belmont County, is suitable for a $10 billion chemical plant.
The plant would need more than 5,000 construction workers to build the facility. In the long-term, it would add hundreds of permanent jobs. The Associated Press quoted Kasich as saying the plant would be a “game changer.”
The plant would process ethane from natural gas and break it down — or “crack” it — into ethylene, which is used to make plastics.
It would be the second such plant in the region, as Royal Dutch Shell is constructing a similar plant along the Ohio River in Monaca, Pa. That’s about 100 miles north of Monroe County. Published reports said about 6,000 construction workers will be needed to build that plant over five years. It will have 400-500 workers once construction is complete.
PTT Global Chemical and its partner, Daelim Industrial Co. of South Korea, have yet to say whether they will build their plant in Dilles Bottom. But officials in Monroe County are confident, and they foresee quality, high-paying jobs for their residents.
Jason Hamman, a corporate consultant in Vermilion, who serves on a contract basis as the economic development director of Monroe County, said he believes the plant would set off a chain reaction of business growth.
Hamman said he expects companies would sprout up around the region to supply the plant with parts, equipment and materials.
But there are plenty of reasons for caution. Some critics fear what happened when the aluminum plants closed and the jobs were lost: Monroe’s economy couldn’t rebound.
That’s the mistake Mercer County officials say they’ve avoided by encouraging a diverse base of highly automated small to midsize manufacturing businesses.
“Diversity insulates you from economic downturns,” said Jared Ebbing, the economic development director from Mercer.
“You have to have a balanced economy. If something suffers, something else has to be there to pick it up. You can’t just produce widgets for one company or one industry.”
This story was produced in cooperation with Your Voice Ohio, a collaborative of more than 50 news organizations statewide. Caniglia works for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Knox works for Your Voice Ohio.