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Published: Sunday, 1/17/2010

Metro Toledo economic profile shifts away from factories

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

OVER THE past decade, metro Toledoans held fewer manufacturing jobs but more were employed in health care, education, service, and maintenance.

The metro area, made up of Lucas, Fulton, Ottawa, and Wood counties, is in an economic transition, further reshaping its business and economic profile from one dominated by manufacturing into one heavy with education and health-care jobs that employ a better-educated work force.

“Throughout the recession it's been education and health care as the two major industries that have added jobs throughout the nation, and Toledo is part of that trend,” said Craig Thomas, senior economist for PNC Financial Services, parent company of National City Bank.

Korin Calkins, a clinical pharmacist, is among the new wave of health-care workers in the metro Toledo area.

A graduate of the University of Toledo in 2004, she was hired by ProMedica's Toledo Hospital in 2008 and continues to get job offers from recruiters.

“I've had some high school students shadow me at work and when they ask about jobs, the answer is: ‘Yes, there is going to be a job waiting for you,'” she said.

U.S. Census Bureau figures show that from 2000 to 2008, the latest year for which statistics are available, the education, health-care, and social assistance industries in metro Toledo have grown by more than 14,000 employees to 76,213.

Put another way, in 2000, one of every five area workers was in those industries. Now it's one in every four.

Since 2000, there are 6,600 more jobs in sales and office professions in metro Toledo, the Census figures show.

The service sector grew by 5,400 jobs, the construction, extraction, maintenance, and repair fields added 5,000, and management and professional ranks gained nearly 800.

Retail added 1,600 jobs, but arts and entertainment, recreation, and hotel and food services lost nearly 4,300.

The area's historical economic backbone — manufacturing — continued to shrink. From 2000 to 2008, the sector lost 429 jobs.

That might seem insignificant if not for the fact that the sector was growing in the early part of the decade, reaching nearly 59,000 workers.

As of 2008, there were 54,404 manufacturing workers and the sector represented 16 percent of the overall employment in metro Toledo. In 2000, its share was 18 percent.

The shrinkage from two decades earlier is sizable.

The U.S. Commerce Department pegged metro Toledo's manufacturing work force at more than 65,000 in 1981.

By 1990, that had dwindled to 59,000, suggesting that the sector has not grown even as Toledo's overall population grew by 8 percent to 649,104.

In 2008 the number of production, transportation, and material-moving jobs had fallen by 4,300 from the number in 2000, according to Census data.

“Manufacturing in Toledo is still larger than the typical share of manufacturing in the average American city,” Mr. Thomas said. “It's certainly not gone.”

He said that as the auto industry stabilizes, shuttered and downsized plants could benefit.

“Other manufacturers will be looking at markets that have underutilized capacity and trained work forces,” he said.

The sector, though, could grow in a changed form.

“Today's manufacturers tend to produce lighter things in smaller amounts of space, with fewer people,” Mr. Thomas explained. “But the products they make tend to have a high value.”

With the growth of solar-panel manufacturers like First Solar Inc. and Xunlight Corp., the Toledo area has become well positioned for these new manufacturing jobs, most of which pay very well, he added.

First Solar, which opened in 2000 with 50 employees, now has 700 at its Perrysburg Township plant, where an expansion this year will add 140 employees.

Xunlight, which began operations in 2008 and has about 75 employees, expects to add 181 soon.

“So I wouldn't count manufacturing out,” Mr. Thomas said.

Mike Bankey, vice president for work force and community services at Owens Community College in suburban Toledo, said manufacturers seem more proactive about re-educating their work forces and retooling their assembly lines.

During the 2002 recession, companies were concerned chiefly with cutting costs, trimming work forces, and finding any way to survive.

But during the 2008 recession, companies had their workers acquire more skills, and those who were laid off enrolled in schools to learn skills to make themselves more employable, Mr. Bankey said.

More manufacturing companies are coming to Owens and requesting classes in new fields, like solar and wind power, and are asking for curriculums that teach a cross-training of skills so workers can do more jobs, he said.

“With companies having less and less personnel, they're really trying to maximize what they have,” Mr. Bankey said.

Kevin Sauder, president and chief executive officer at Sauder Woodworking Co. in Archbold, said employers and workers have realized over the last five years or so that a company needs a versatile work force to compete globally.

His company eliminated nearly 80 jobs through attrition in 2008 after suffering its first financial loss in decades.

“One of the things we learn when we go to more lean manufacturing is that very narrow definitions of jobs are obsolete,” he said.

“Machine operators need to know how to work many different machines and forklift drivers need to have more skills and a willingness to do multiple jobs.”

The only way the company can pay northwest Ohio labor rates and survive against lower Chinese and Mexican wages is to be more efficient and productive, he said.

The Census data uncovered another key development: Area residents are better educated now, which some local experts believe is prompted by companies that demand workers have more skills, and a growth in job sectors, like health care, that demand better-educated workers.

In 2000, 14 percent, or 42,744, of metro Toledoans had less than a high school diploma. By 2008, the figures were 12 percent and 34,700.

The number with some college education but no degree increased by 15,496.

George Simon, president of Stautzenberger College in Maumee, said the school's enrollment increased by 300 over the last five years, and it has added 20 faculty members.

“We had to move because we just ran out of space at our Southwyck location,” Mr. Simon said. “The new demand is in the health-care field primarily.”

Ms. Calkins, the pharmacist at Toledo Hospital, said many who are filling health-care jobs are coming from the local factory floors.

“I taught at Monroe Community College for their pharmacy technician program. And many of my students are former autoworkers. They are leaving the auto industry for health care because that's where the jobs are out there,” she said.

To the north, the economic profile of Monroe, Mich., also is changing, but more slowly than metro Toledo's.

The education, health care, and social assistance sector — the largest industry in that county by number of workers — increased by 200 workers to 15,449 betweem 2005 (the earliest figures available) and 2008. Its other leading industry segments declined. Manufacturing lost 250 jobs, dropping its total to 15,449, and retail lost 700 jobs.

Wendy Papenfuss, human resources director for work force planning at ProMedica, said the shift in the Toledo job picture began around 2000 and is revving up as the baby boom generation ages.

ProMedica and others have encouraged area educational institutions to increase their health-care curriculums.

“In my recruiter capacity, we are retraining some of the local [manufacturing] work force to enter the health-care field and we are seeing a lot of older adults taking a career-path change,” Ms. Papenfuss said.

Contact Jon Chavez at:jchavez@theblade.comor 419-724-6128.



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