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Port Authority executive director presents state of Lake County industrial market

Andrew Cass | The News-Herald

Ten years from now, Lake County could be between 4,000 and 8,000 workers short of filling the jobs that exist today based upon the number of baby boomers retiring and millennials entering the workforce.

That is according to Lake County Ohio Port and Economic Development Authority Executive Director Mark Rantala, who gave a state of the industrial market presentation to the agency’s Board of Directors at the most recent meeting.

Lake County ended 2015 with an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, down exactly 2 percentage points from where it started the year. The county’s unemployment rate is the 10th lowest in Ohio. Since July 2008, Lake County’s unemployment rate was below the state’s average 75 times out of a possible 90. During that same period, the county’s rate was below the national unemployment rate 82 times.

“What our biggest challenge is, is not finding a job for every worker — because we’ve got our unemployment rate at 3.7 percent—but rather finding a worker for every job,” Rantala said. “Our manufacturing community is challenged to fill the positions that they have.”

Manufacturing currently represents 39 percent of Lake County’s workforce and more than 33,0000 jobs.

The Port and Economic Development Authority is looking at ways to close that gap.

Rantala said the authority is doing an analysis for the county Planning Commission and the school districts.

“We’re in the process of consolidating 10 years’ worth of enrollment projections so that in 2025 or 2026, we’ll have a sense of how many people are going to be coming out of high school that could be going into the workforce.”

The planning commission will run those numbers against the probable retirement age of baby boomers, who will be turning 65.

“Obviously that’s a fluid age, but it will give us a general category so we can identify how big this number is,” Rantala said.

The other challenge in doing the analysis, Rantala said, is half of the people who are in the workforce who are in Lake County work outside of the county, while half of the people who work in the county come from outside of it.

“We’re almost a 50-50 county in terms of flow of people, but we’re trying to get a handle on this,” he said. “I’ve actually scheduled a second round of meetings on the Lake Works panel for the end of next month and we’re going to start to identify a strategy of what it’s going to take us to fill the workforce in five years and 10 years.”

Rantala also presented the board with three challenges that the county faces from a traditional economic development standpoint in 2016.

One is the need to continue efforts to demonstrate to young people the career opportunities in manufacturing. Current programs include the Alliance For Working Together’s RoboBots, Junior Robots and Auburn Career Center’s “We Build It Here” video series. There are also events like “Manufacturing Day,” which run through the chambers of commerce, and the Port Authority’s “New Teacher Welcome Day,” which introduces new teachers to Lake County’s manufacturing economy. Rantala said they are continuing to explore additional options.

Another challenge is available buildings. Rantala said Lake County currently has a 2.8 percent vacancy rate for industrial buildings.

“What that really equates to is there’s no space to move anybody,” he said. “You’d like to have a vacancy rate of 5 or 6 percent.”

There are only four available spaces available above 50,000 square feet. Rantala said that number is about 10 too low.

The lack of available space limits the potential to attract business to the county. Current rents do not support the cost of new construction, so it is likely the county is facing the shortage of space for the immediate future.

The third challenge Rantala identified is development land. According to the commercial real estate information service Costar, Lake County only has seven parcels of land of 30 acres or larger with sewer, water, gas and electrical service in sufficient capacity to develop for industrial use. Rantala said the cost of providing the necessary utilities to serve the undeveloped sites is prohibitive.

Rantala said the authority is also looking to continue its medium-term view of assisting existing businesses through the Business Retention and Expansion program, citing last year’s assistance of the Lubrizol expansion in Painesville Township. With that, Rantala said they helped retain 309 jobs and add 24 new jobs as Lubrizol committed to a five-year, $100 million expansion.