Job growth in Northeast Ohio and nationwide has been on the upswing over the past year, but now the question is: how can that growth be maintained?
Dozens of community and philanthropic leaders, political candidates and interested residents gathered last week to hear more details about a recently released study looking at 115 mid-sized U.S. metropolitan areas, including the Youngstown-Warren market, in a post-recession economy.
What they discussed were ways to reverse trends that, despite falling jobless numbers, are leaving income stagnant and leaving behind those already living in poverty.
Statistics pointed out by the research indicated that while northeast Ohio's employment grew slower than the rest of the nation between 2010 and 2011, its output and productivity outpaced the rest of the nation by about a percentage point.
The last time that happened was in the early 1990s, but the trend quickly reversed.
"If we are going to achieve our respective philanthropic missions, we need to have a healthy and vibrant economy," said Brad Whitehead, president of The Fund for Our Economic Future, a northeast Ohio philanthropic group committed to promoting Northeast Ohio's long-term economic competitiveness.
Emily Garr Pacetti, manager of research, grants and evaluation for The Fund for Our Economic Future, on Thursday presented the findings of research that looked at northeast Ohio’s economy and its future.
The group's manager of research, grants and evaluation, Emily Garr Pacetti, echoed his concern.
"What can we do to capitalize on this recovery and make it a long-lasting one?" she asked.
Pointing out that higher educational attainment and innovation are critical to the economic success of an area, the report indicated that northeast Ohio ranks in the bottom fifth of the 115 metro areas studied. That was attributed largely to the aging population, below-average educational attainment and a general underperformance in research and development-related measures.
One of the participants in a panel discussion at the forum, Dale Foerster, vice president of Starr Manufacturing in Vienna, pointed out the need for training and informing residents of the availability of grants and funding to help them attain that training.
"We need to educate everyone about the opportunity in our community if people have the proper training, and we have to educate them about the accessibility of training and education out there," she said.
Transportation to jobs and training opportunities is a consistent problem for the poor, pointed out Joe Caruso, president and CEO of Compass Family & Community Services, another panelist. Caruso noted that public transportation is sometimes a struggle, particularly on weekends and holidays.
Audience participant Hunter Morrison, director of Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, pointed out that with the growth of the geographical footprint of metropolitan areas often comes added difficulties of accessibility to job sites.
"We are growing our footprint, but we aren't necessarily growing our job base," he said. "How do we bring jobs and the people closer together?"
Other topics of discussion during the two-hour forum Thursday focused on discrimination, difficulty in transferring skills to new careers, need for regionalization in government and challenges presented by drug and alcohol abuse.
Despite the challenges, statewide jobless numbers, released Friday, have held steady at 7 percent for the last two months - well below May's national unemployment rate of 7.6 percent. Local statistics are scheduled for release Tuesday.