Congressman Tim Ryan's efforts are steering the Steel Valley in this direction. But his plan for economic development will fall flat without an ample talent pool. Indiana, another state heavily dependent on manufacturing, ran aground with its biotech initiative:
A big reason so much of the Indiana economy is dependent on manufacturing is that Indiana's workforce is largely unskilled and uneducated. Only one-third of its workers has high school diplomas or GEDs, and only 28 percent have college degrees, compared to 39 percent nationally. According to Philip Powell, an Associate Professor of Business at Indiana University-Bloomington quoted in the Indianapolis Star: "We're stuck. We're stuck because we don't have the knowledge base we need in the labor force. A lot of that is because of our really mediocre primary and secondary educational system."
That's one reason why Indiana's highly touted drive to attract high-paying biotech jobs is falling flat -- its workers lack the skills and education for such jobs. The Star recently boasted about biotech employers Eli Lilly in Indianapolis and Cook Instruments in Bloomington providing 7,200 Indiana jobs. This when the Indiana economy is currently losing over 15,000 jobs a month! Biotech in Indiana has shown itself to be just another economic growth pipe dream, akin to other quick-fix schemes developed in the past.
Workforce development has to match the plan for job creation. But I would caution against pointing the finger at local schools. More investment in human capital is the only way to go, but the better educated have a tendency to leave home. Greater Youngstown and the entire Tech Belt need a coherent talent attraction strategy to fuel the kind of innovation Ryan hopes to see thriving in his district.