We must take charge of our future

I have had the honor to experience both the thrill of the process to bring national football championships to YSU and Ohio State and now participating in the academic and economic development of our Valley. These truly are magical times. However, it concerns me that the conversation of the manufacturing future of Ohio and, more specifically, here in the Mahoning Valley has not reflected the exciting opportunity before us.

The world is on the cusp of the biggest revolution in automotive technology in more than 100 years: internal combustion engines will eventually go by the wayside and decisions are being made right now on where the factories of the future will be located. Ohio’s workforce has a once-in-a-generation chance to power the future of advanced automotive manufacturing.

On the table are two significant manufacturing investments that could plant the seed to bring the future of manufacturing right here to Ohio and the Mahoning Valley. General Motors, Lordstown Motors Co. and Workhorse Group are offering the Mahoning Valley a chance to be at the forefront of this revolution — GM with its proposal of a battery cell factory; and Lordstown Motors and Workhorse with a plan to build electric pickups with UAW labor at the GM Lordstown Complex. What do these new opportunities really represent? A chance for Ohio to position itself as a hub of technology and completely reshape the future trajectory of the whole Mahoning Valley. We should turn our attention to becoming part of the future by embracing potential investments for new technology and landing those jobs right here.

Positioning the Mahoning Valley for tomorrow will undoubtedly drive thousands of direct jobs, thousands more construction jobs and the continued ripple effect that our region has experienced for many years. Think of being in the epicenter of technology. We know that we have the talent, and we know that there is the demand. These will be quality jobs with quality wages.

Most people agree that we need to do something to combat climate change and that electric vehicles are part of the solution. Shouldn’t our Ohio workforce be a part of that solution? Shouldn’t we want that for our children and grandchildren? At YSU, we want to be a part of the research, the workforce training, the development of 3-D additive and subtractive manufacturing — anywhere we can contribute. Our partners — such as America Makes, YBI, Brite Energy Innovators and EGCC — are poised to be a part of this exciting revolution, and we look forward to attracting a number of new companies.

We have watched other cities across the Midwest fail to evolve, and therefore fail. We have watched other industries fail to progress and therefore disappear. Ohio has the chance to evolve and stake its claim in the future of mobility.

One thing to always remember is this: Success breeds success. If we can make the most of the opportunities in front of us, more will follow. And the potential is enormous. The Reuters news agency estimates that as many as 250 startups are involved in some aspect of vehicle electrification — companies that have attracted more than $20 billion in venture capital. That doesn’t even count the dollars being invested by automakers.

At Youngstown State, we are ready to roll up our sleeves and do our part to train the workforce that can bring those dollars and jobs to Ohio. But we’re all in this together — policymakers, chambers of commerce, educators and investors. If we come together as a team, and execute with consistency, we will win.

Tressel is president of Youngstown State University.