×

Manufacturing in Ohio seeing slow, steady growth

Aluminum production
Greg Pease | Getty Images

Ohio'sidentity is tied in many ways to what it has made for generations — steel, cars, glass, tires and, yes, even footballs.

While manufacturing alone no longer dominates the state's economy, its fortunes and the fate of its political leaders still rise and fall with the health of the industries that have shaped Ohio.

After a decade that saw nearly four out of every 10 manufacturing jobs disappear, employment in manufacturing has grown each year in Ohio since Republican Gov. John Kasich took office in 2011. But there are still far fewer manufacturing jobs in the state than there were before the recession.

A look at the facts and politics about Ohio's manufacturing economy as Kasich seeks re-election this year against Democrat Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive.

THE NUMBERS

Manufacturing is no longer the top employer in Ohio — health care and social assistance took over the top spot five years ago — but the state still has more factory jobs than all but California and Texas. About 17 percent of Ohio's economy is generated by manufacturing, compared with about 12 percent of the U.S. economy.

Ohio lost a staggering 166,000 manufacturing jobs — a 20 percent drop — during the Great Recession of 2007-2009, according to the state's Department of Jobs and Family Services. It has regained about 50,000 over the past four years, the first prolonged increase since the mid-1990s.

Read MoreCNBC's Top States for Business: Where does Ohio stack up?

The overall gains in manufacturing jobs have been slow but steady during Kasich's first term. The number of manufacturing jobs rose nearly 7 percent in Kasich's first three years. Ohio has been among the top 20 states in job growth since 2011 — less than Michigan and Indiana, which have seen double-digit percentage increases, but with gains exceeding neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Annual wages for those in manufacturing rose by about $5,500 from 2006 to 2012, an 11 percent gain. At the same time, the state had 1,700 fewer manufacturing locations, a 10 percent drop.

THE CONTEXT

Ohio had just over 1 million manufacturing jobs in 2000 before losing close to 400,000 over the next decade. With the gains made over the last few years, there were about 670,000 Ohioans employed in manufacturing at the middle of this year.

The state lost so many manufacturing jobs that it would take 48 years to recover them all at the current growth rate, according to Cleveland economist George Zeller. The nation, as a whole, would need 63 years to recover all the manufacturing jobs lost, he said.

"We are still way deep in a big hole, and we haven't recovered from it," Zeller said.

THE CAMPAIGNS

Kasich was endorsed by the Ohio Manufacturers' Association, saying in late August that tax cuts and a budget surplus have made the state more attractive. He noted that both Ford Motor Co. and Whirlpool Corp. have moved jobs from other countries into Ohio.

FitzGerald has criticized Kasich's decision to put a two-year hold on the state's renewable energy targets. He wants to invest in clean energy such as solar and wind, saying it will directly create new jobs and help manufacturers become more energy efficient.

THE PLANS

FitzGerald thinks Ohio needs to aggressively promote its companies across the world and increase exports. He also says it is imperative that young people who don't go to college get some kind of advanced technical certificate.

Kasich wants vocational training to start in junior high and says too many factory jobs are not being filled because not enough workers can operate today's high-tech equipment. He has put in place a program to help employers offset worker training costs.

OHIO VOICE

Jonah Devorak was stuck in a "dead-end job" at a suburban Cleveland restaurant where he'd been washing dishes and manning the grill since he was 16. He took a shot at nursing classes after high school, but his heart wasn't in it.

"I was kind of at a loss for a path," he said. "Unless you're looking for minimum wage, it's next to impossible to find something."

The idea of working in a factory, even if he could find one of those jobs, didn't appeal to him either. He couldn't imagine doing repetitive work day after day. "In all honesty, I was never a real mechanical person," he said. "I didn't see myself in that setting."

Read MoreMillennials abandoning Rust Belt as prospects diminish

Then he heard about a program at Cuyahoga Community College that trains students for manufacturing jobs at a company that had openings for dozens of machine operators. He spent two months training to operate computer-controlled machines and completed a two-month internship that landed him a full-time job this year at Swagelok Co., a Cleveland-area maker of high-pressure valves and fittings for a variety of industries.

"It's a good feeling having a direction in life for the first time," the 25-year-old said. "Not wondering what you're going to do to make it to your next paycheck."