Metro Toledo may have arrested the descent in its economy, but it will take almost 25,000 jobs that don't exist to return the region to full employment, a Bowling Green State University economist said Friday.
To get there, the region must stop chasing specific industries and focus on the clustering of interdependent businesses, said Michael Carroll, director of BGSU's Center for Regional Development.
Mr. Carroll was one of several speakers at BGSU's eighth annual State of the Region Conference, held at the Hilton Garden Inn at Levis Commons in Perrysburg.
"Alternative energy is the current deity that we're all looking to for answers, but it's not the full answer," Mr. Carroll told about 250 business, government, education, and economic development officials at the conference.
A forum of regional business leaders told the audience the recession, though painful, helped hone their operations and exponentially improve efficiency. Businesses that are expanding are finding nearly unprecedented talent levels among job applicants.
"It focuses you like that guy with a deer in his headlights," said Charles Stocking, president and chief executive officer of Principle Business Enterprises Inc. in Dunbridge. "The access to labor is incredible. We had one position for which we had 800 applicants."
Donald Mennel, president of Mennel Milling Co. in Fostoria, said businesses in an ultracompetitive environment such as a recession must focus on their customers and listen.
"We've become very intimate with our customers. We listen to the customer, and we often know they have a problem before they do. And when they do have a problem, we solve it for them," Mr. Mennel said.
Eric Fingerhut, chancellor of the University System of Ohio, said Ohio's universities and colleges are being asked to align their research to mesh with the industries in their areas.
As an example, he cited the University of Toledo's research in alternative energy technologies and the corresponding jobs that have come from that research.
He highlighted an ongoing effort by Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati to collaborate on consumer goods as a model that will be rolled out statewide this year.
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