Development Board focuses on job creation

Emily Inverso

Bradford Ehrhart said that his main objective is to bring more jobs to Portage County after officially assuming his role as president of the Portage Development Board on Monday.

The board, which has been operational since Feb. 1, is aimed at improving the economy within the county.

“One of the biggest steps is developing an outreach and retention program to help the number of jobs in our county grow,” Ehrhart said. “The goal is finding out what’s keeping business owners up at night and trying to match them with resources to meet those challenges.”

“The goal is finding out what’s keeping business owners up at night”

In August, Ohio’s unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. That means an additional 7,000 workers became unemployed since July. This keeps with Policy Matters Ohio’s report this month showing that since 2000, Ohio has lost about 590,000 jobs — more than one-fourth of the job loss in the nation.

“Ohio is probably being hit harder than any other state because it has a manufacturing economy, and in a recession, when people are demanding less goods, it suffers,” Ehrhart said. “But it will come back, and then we will have a competitive advantage over other folks.”

Part of that advantage, he said, is focusing on Portage County’s resource advantages. A few of his main focuses will be on commercialized medical research and strengthening the rubber and plastics industries in the area.

“When I describe Portage County to my friends, I say it is Cleveland to the north, Akron to the west, Canton to the south and Youngstown, Warren to the east,” Ehrhart said. “It’s a great locational advantage for businesses the board could serve.”

Ravenna has its own economic development group, using a similar model as the Portage Development Board. Ravenna’s board, which Kerry Macomber has been the economic development director of since April 2010, is a city example of what Macomber said she is sure the county can expand upon.

“Ravenna has seen a lot of job creation in the past 17 months,” Macomber said. “I would say over 100 new positions in the city and about 15 companies are responsible for that. Several of our long-term businesses have plans to expand, so we have gained employment through retention and expansion, as well.”

The Portage Development Board’s members plan to continue the county’s growth by teaming with area businesses to develop strategic plans for what resources they may need in the future.

“What are their workforce development needs? That’s what we need to know,” said Stephen Colecchi, chairman of the board. “We’ll be working with the local universities — Kent State, Hiram College, Maplewood Career Center — to make sure there are training programs in place to help folks acquire skills that we know this particular company is going to need.”

Ehrhart said he is excited to start his position as president and hopes to use his economic development experience from previous positions in Mercer and Clarion counties. He used a current example in Clarion County, where wood waste from factory-built houses is shipped to a coal plant, ground up and added to a mix that generates electricity.

“Those are some of the cool things I’m really looking forward to doing successfully,” Ehrhart said. “What I mean by success is working with companies and helping them negotiate their goals so they can, in turn, hire and keep workers with family-sustaining wages.”

With the Portage Development Board now ready and working with ideas like these, Colecchi said there are a million things to do to help the county’s economy with growth, retention and expansion. When the board meets with its new president, it will lay out a specific timeline with deadlines for meeting their goals.

“While business attraction is certainly a primary focus, we cannot rest our hat on that,” Colecchi said. “At the end of the day, our success will be measured in how many jobs we create.”

Contact Emily Inverso at [email protected].