When Bowling Green State University hosted its annual State of the Region Conference in 2010, the unemployment rate across northwest Ohio was more than 13 percent.
Fast forward to today. The U.S. economy is improving, and the unemployment rate across the 17-county region had fallen to a smidge over 7 percent as of late December.
“Most people are more confident,” said Michael C. Carroll, associate professor of economics and director of BGSU’s Center for Regional Development. “People are spending a little more money, the consumer confidence index is up. But if you get down to the nitty gritty, and look at jobs and the industry mix, it’s a little bit of a different story.”
While it’s nice to see the unemployment rate dropping, the picture it paints can be misleading, Mr. Carroll told attendees at the State of the Region Conference on Friday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Perrysburg.
The region has added just 5,000 jobs in the last 36 months. That works out to 139 jobs a month for all of northwest Ohio. At that rate, Mr. Carroll said, it would be 2035 before the area reaches pre-recession employment levels.
So why does the unemployment rate look better while the job creation looks bad? A shrinking labor force. In the last three years, the number of those working or seeking work has fallen by more than 5 percent. Mr. Carroll said there’s no way to know everyone’s reasons for leaving the labor force, but it’s not because they’re moving away.
Data show just a 1.38 percent drop in population across the region over the last 10 years.
“Things are definitely on the right track, but we just haven’t recovered as quickly as we need to,” Mr. Carroll said after his presentation.
More than 300 people attended the conference, which also included a presentation from the regional director of the Economic Development Administration’s Chicago regional office and a roundtable discussion with officials from Whirlpool Corp., CSX Corp., and Wood County Hospital.
Part of the conference’s thrust is that groups within the region need to work together more and better. Stan Korducki, president of Wood County Hospital, embraced that idea.
“There’s been very, very fierce competition between all the hospital providers in the city,” he said. “We need to turn that into collaboration, because we have a lot of resources, a lot of skills, a lot of capabilities.”
Doing that, he said, could help more patients from this area receive treatment in this area — where they can often pay less than they would by seeking treatment in other markets.
The discussion also turned to advanced manufacturing, for which companies are demanding workers who are better educated than in prior times. It also means more productivity.
While that can be seen as a threat to jobs, Bonnie Torti, Whirlpool’s director of support operations at Clyde, said it doesn’t have to be.
“I think most people think when a manufacturer increases productivity, it's at the cost of employees,” she said. “That’s not necessarily the case. In our case, we can maintain a stable work force size at the 3,200-3,400 level while increasing productivity.”
Ms. Torti said that’s partially because Whirlpool has been bringing jobs back from overseas, and because the complexity of what Whirlpool makes is higher, requiring more employees.
Looking forward, Mr. Carroll said there needs to be more collaboration between the region’s various economic development agencies. He also said there needs to be a continued and stronger relationship between business and universities to get students and graduates into the work force.
He also expects more good things from the automotive sector.
“I think automotive has been a real pleasant surprise, and I think the automotive [indusry] in 2013 will be good. I think that will be a big rebound. How long that will last, who knows. But that’s a bright spot.”
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.