The Youngstown-Warren market is breaking with tradition as local unemployment figures chug along with the rest of Ohio, even beating Cleveland and national averages.
Mark Sniderman, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, expressed pleasant surprise to see numbers indicating the Youngstown Metropolitan Statistical Area keeping pace with the nation's unemployment figures as the country sees flickers of emergence from the Great Recession.
Tribune Chronicle / Brenda J. Linert
Hundreds of area businessmen and women turned out Feb. 7 for the annual Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber Economic Forecast Breakfast, held in Boardman.
The most recent statewide unemployment figures released by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services for December showed the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman market lower than the national average for the fifth straight month.
Chamber officials said since 1983, there have been just 15 months when the local metro area's jobless rate was lower than the national rate. Eleven of those months occurred since August 2011.
The local metro area posted a 7.7 percent jobless rate in December compared to the national rate of 7.8 percent. From December 2011 to December 2012, the metro area rate dropped from 8.3 percent to 7.6 percent.
Over the last year, Mahoning and Trumbull counties and the cities of Youngstown and Warren saw their jobless rates drop substantially. Mahoning's decreased from 8.4 percent to 7.3 percent; Trumbull's from 8.7 percent to 8 percent; Youngstown's from 10.4 percent to 9 percent; and Warren's from 9.9 percent to 9 percent.
Describing the Mahoning Valley's unemployment rate as "impressive," Sniderman said the area is climbing back strongly. "Kudos to the Valley for bucking the trend."
Sniderman was in Boardman to deliver the keynote address at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce's annual economic forecast breakfast earlier this month. Sniderman's credentials include serving as senior economist for economic policy analysis for the U.S. Senate Budget Committee in Washington. He holds a doctorate degree in economics.
"We are still not there yet, but this area has held its own being in the middle of the pack," Sniderman said.
Looking over the Youngstown area stats, Sniderman pointed out that while Youngstown's manufacturing jobs have dipped, they have been replaced by professional and business services, and education and health services. That trend, Sniderman pointed out, is not unique to the Youngstown market area.
"You just don't need as many people to produce as much as you used to,'' Sniderman said. ''Manufacturing is a lot more sophisticated than it was many years ago, even 10 years ago."
Still Youngstown-Warren-Boardman statistics showed a year-to-year increase of 800 manufacturing jobs. Also increasing was financial activities, up 200 jobs; education and health services, up 800 jobs; leisure and hospitality, up 200 jobs; and other services, up 100 jobs, said Tom Humphries, president and chief executive officer of the Regional Chamber.
Sniderman noted that the natural gas and oil industry has also played a role in the rebound of the area's economy.
''You can't talk about the region without talking about (Utica) Shale,'' Sniderman said. ''Drilling, permitting, it's pretty amazing, and it's having a big ripple effect throughout the Valley.
''Shale oil and gas will directly generate employment in the short- and mid-term and possibly the long term,'' he said. ''There is some uncertainty about how much of that has a long tail and spills over into other types of manufacturing industry, but there is a lot of potential.
''There will be a lot of drilling, a lot of infrastructure, hotels, retail. But the drilling will be done, the infrastructure will be here, but then where will the people go? How much of that will be a wave?''
How much that potential is met, Sniderman stressed, depends on the area's educational attainment and innovation.
The Chamber's Humphries agreed with that assessment, and added another important factor in long-term viability is industry diversity.
''We can't be a one-industry town,'' Humphries said.
And recent developments show the area has been working to become more diversified. Humphries pointed out local growth in warehouse and distributions, largely brought on because of the area's strong highway infrastructure.
In addition to manufacturing and health and education, he said there also are 5,000 area employees working in local call centers.
Entertainment also is a big factor in making a market inviting, and Humphries pointed out Penn National's plans to build a horse racetrack and video slot terminal in Austintown will go a long way in drawing visitors and future development to the area.