Exports and global engagement are crucial for the future successes of metropolitan areas across Ohio and the United States, according to the director of the Brookings Institution's respected Metropolitan Policy Program.
Bruce J. Katz, a vice president at Brookings and founding director of the Metropolitan Policy Program, believes a successful economic future includes advanced manufacturing, strong research and innovation, a well-trained skilled work force, growing exports, and stronger global engagement.
"It's impossible to think about how the U.S. restructures its economy postrecession unless we really put an emphasis in advanced manufacturing," Mr. Katz said in a recent interview with The Blade. "In that respect, Toledo comes across as a very interesting metropolis."
With its research base, education centers, manufacturing heritage, and successes in promoting green manufacturing, Toledo fits well into the mold that Mr. Katz envisions.
Local economic development officials agree.
"I think if you polled cities and regions around the country and around the world, and you asked them what kind of clusters are you trying to promote, most would say bio and most would say renewable energy. We are very fortunate the Toledo area has a history and an expertise in both of those areas," said Paul Zito, vice president of international development at the Regional Growth Partnership.
Though Toledo's historic strength and specialization have been in the automotive sector -- something that's been buoyed recently by the resurgence of the auto industry -- Mr. Zito said the region has done well in attracting new, advanced manufacturing in bio and renewable engineering.
He points to solar-panel maker Isofoton, a Spanish company that is spending more than $31 million on a new plant in Napoleon that's expected to create 330 jobs. Mr. Zito said company officials have praised northwest Ohio's skilled labor force, work ethic, research and development programs, supplier base, and spirt of collaboration as their reasons for choosing the region.
"That's a good illustration of what this area has to offer for high tech and innovative manufacturing, and couple that with traditional manufacturing, automotive, machine tooling, metal working," he said. "It's a good mix which many metropolitan areas don't have."
The city of Napoleon -- in Henry County -- sits outside the Toledo metro area, which traditionally encompasses Lucas, Fulton, Wood, and Ottawa counties. But within those bounds there are plenty of other examples.
Two companies, New Waste Concepts in Perrysburg, and Bionix Development Corp. in Toledo, were recognized in May with Presidential E Awards for increasing U.S. exports. New Waste Concepts makes environmental products, while Bionix manufactures medical devices. There are several other companies doing green-energy work.
"The focus on manufacturing is probably the most important debate we need to have in the U.S. postrecession," Mr. Katz said. "We just ignored it for 30 years."
For many years, Mr. Katz said, U.S. manufacturing was brushed aside because many saw it as a foregone conclusion that the United States' future economy would not be made by building things.
"That's absolute nonsense," he said. "I think the failure to focus on manufacturing is a large part of why we've lost so many jobs, and why we've had this growing income divide."
Mr. Katz said one problem was a separation of manufacturing from innovation and the so-called knowledge economy. But manufacturing companies employ a disproportionate number of engineers, and 90 percent of patents are issued to manufacturers. As he sees it, producing less means innovating less.
Though he believes federal policies on taxes and tariffs could help local economies, the chances for success would be greater if metropolitan areas such as Toledo or states like Ohio led the way.
Mr. Katz laid out that vision in Columbus during a Global Cities Initiative forum focusing on how Ohio can create jobs and leverage its position in the global market. He repeated it to The Blade, highlighting Toledo's successes.
Though he couldn't speak specifically of Toledo's China connection, he did say overseas trade trips shouldn't have been viewed as meaningless junkets.
"I actually think for political leaders and the network of [business] leaders, a structured trade focus and global engagement is now one of the essential roles they play, practically in a place like Toledo where such a large percentage of your GDP comes from exports."
According to a study Brookings released in March, 15 percent of metro Toledo's 2010 Gross Domestic Product came from exports. Among the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas, that was 10th-best.
Metro Toledo also had considerable export growth over that period -- the 17 percent increase in value of exports was third-best in Brookings' study of the 100 largest U.S. metros. Of that export expansion, more than 88 percent came from goods production.
Mr. Zito said most of Toledo's advanced manufacturing companies are exporting.
"The start-up companies, perhaps not, but most of the developed companies are exporting. If you look at the Brookings Institution report on exporting, Toledo exports a lot: $4.1 billion in calendar year 2010. A lot of that is transportation equipment, but much of that is very high-tech stuff," Mr. Zito said.
Of Ohio's metros, only Youngstown performed better. It came in just ahead of Toledo for exports as a percentage of GDP, while placing No. 1 in export value growth at 30.4 percent.
With $46 billion worth of exports, Ohio ranked ninth among all states last year, according to data from the Ohio Manufacturers' Association.
Mr. Katz said Ohio seems well positioned to continue strengthening its foreign business relationships. He also noted that JobsOhio -- the state's private economic development entity -- seems to be establishing a successful model. "You need a state entity that can identify the leading advanced industries in the state, can help provide the support on a metro or regional level that is needed to keep those industries competitive, and can attract foreign investment that matches up with your competitive industries," he said.
Officials with JobsOhio say manufacturing, particularly advanced manufacturing, is a key focus for the agency.
"It's a good story to tell when you look at the renaissance in manufacturing. We're kind of at the heart of it in Ohio," said Kristi Tanner, managing director for manufacturing at JobsOhio.
Ms. Tanner said statewide employment in manufacturing grew by 1.3 percent between 2009 and 2011, while productivity rose considerably. Gross state product from manufacturing grew by more than 13 percent over that time frame. "I think that says quite a bit," she said. "You've got good signs from employment, from gross state product, and also from a productivity standpoint."
Mr. Zito, who prior to joining the RGP worked in the state's Department of Development as managing director of the Ohio European Office, called JobsOhio a great achievement by Gov. John Kasich.
"From my viewpoint and the RGP's viewpoint, the great benefit has been the decentralization of economic development for the state. Northwest Ohio is very different than the three C's [Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati], Youngstown, and southeast Ohio. Economic development has to be addressed individually for those regions," he said.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: email@example.com or 419-724-6134.