- By Matt Sanctis Staff Writer
Community Mercy Health Partners once again tops the list of major employers in Clark County, a trend local economic development leaders said mirrors the rest of the state.
The other biggest employers are public schools, local and federal government, and area colleges, along with service industry businesses like Assurant.
The Chamber of Greater Springfield regularly monitors and updates the list of companies with more than 100 employees as a way to track employment trends in the region. Decades ago, manufacturing firms provided the bulk of jobs in the region, according to local officials. But in recent years the region has become more diversified.
“Having a strong hospital system is critical to growing the type of community we want and people who move here want,” said Mike McDorman, chamber CEO. “That’s very critical to our success and our hospital has made some incredible investments in this community over the past decade that are serving us well.”
The list also provides a general outline for local economic development leaders to identify which industries are strengths and weaknesses in the region, said Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for the Chamber of Greater Springfield.
“Often, having a top employer list is very important to demonstrate the kinds of companies that are in our community and where that employment is located,” Hobbs said. “If someone is looking to locate here, often times they’ll use data like that to help them understand where the high concentrations of employment are.”
Some companies, like Navistar, have floated up and down the list since 2008, the earliest record made available by the Chamber of Greater Springfield. Other companies, including Community Mercy Health Partners and Assurant, have steadily maintained spots at or near the top each year that the results have been compiled.
The list includes employers located outside of Clark County, like Honda or Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, that hire thousands of Clark County residents. The list isn’t expected to be exact, Chamber officials said, but serves as a general guide allowing local officials to monitor employment trends.
“The list is very stable and I think you’re now seeing some of our bigger companies expanding and increasing employment, which is good,” McDorman said.
In line with statewide trends
Many of the companies at the top of Clark County’s list are in industries that also rank high statewide.
Community Mercy and its Springfield Regional Medical Center have been the region’s top employer nearly every year since 2008. Assurant's Springfield office is a key facility in what the company now calls its Global Home division. The company's Springfield location has regularly been second on the list in the past few years. The company's Springfield offices provide operational support for customers and clients of the New York-based company.
CMHP is the largest health provider in the community, with more than 2,300 employees, said Dave Lamb, a spokesman for the company. Of those, 2,035 are located in Springfield.
A 2016 report from the Ohio Development Services Agency shows Ohio has seen a similar trend as health care has played a greater role in the economy. The Cleveland Clinic, which employed 48,200 workers last year, was the top private sector employer in the state last year, according to the report.
The state report showed other hospital groups have been propelled toward the top employer lists, partially through mergers and acquisitions. Mercy Health — parent company of Community Mercy — was Ohio’s fourth largest employer, while University Hospitals came in seventh and OhioHealth in Columbus was listed as 10th.
In Springfield, hiring has remained fairly stable at Community Mercy over the past several years, Lamb said, but the hospital is using incentives like tuition reimbursement and sign-on bonuses to attract in-demand positions like nurses.
“The new hospital, which opened in 2011, is clearly the critical hub of the medical community,” he said. “We have the busiest emergency department in the Mercy Health system with more than 70,000 visits. But we have to think beyond the walls of the hospital.”
The hospital system is also seeing growth in areas like primary care and general surgery, Lamb said, including those trained in robotic surgery. A recent Clark County community health needs assessment identified obesity as an area of concern, so CMHP also developed and began hiring for a weight management solutions program to provide more surgical and non-surgical options for patients to address the issue.
Assurant, the second largest employer on the chamber’s 2017 list, opened in Springfield in 1993. The company started with fewer than 50 employees and moved to its current campus at 1 Assurant Way in 2002.
Assurant now employs more than 1,800 workers, , said Robert Byrd, a company spokesman.
“Since the beginning, our Springfield center has served clients and customers in our homeowners insurance business, so the responsibilities have remained somewhat consistent,” Byrd said. “But our technology and processes have advanced dramatically over 24 years, so the skills of our team have evolved as well.”
Other regional employers located outside Clark County also provide thousands of jobs for area residents. Wright-Patt, considered the largest employer at a single site in the state, employs 26,270 workers and draws from all over the Miami Valley.
Honda is a major local employer, with about 1,400 workers from Clark and Champaign counties and about 13,000 Ohioans overall. The air force base ranks sixth overall on Ohio’s list while Honda ranks 14th statewide.
Locally, city and county officials have increasingly sought to attract companies from a variety of industries. In past decades, the region’s economy relied heavily on large manufacturing firms like Navistar, said Tom Franzen, economic development director and assistant city manager for Springfield.
“The portfolio of companies we have here in the community certainly represent a broader diversification,” Franzen said. “It’s health care, it’s insurance, it’s food-related companies and the professional administration side. Most certainly, Speedway has certainly pushed that forward greatly as a a result of buying Hess.”
Navistar, a heavy truck manufacturer, has had a deep footprint in Clark County’s economy for decades. Along with employing thousands of workers, manufacturing firms and parts suppliers also relied on Navistar for years.
While its economic importance declined over time, just a few years ago workers weathered turmoil that included top management changes, legal struggles, a recession and a failed engine technology. As recently as 2010, the Springfield plant had as few as 300 workers, but it has since bounced back and now employs more than 1,500 workers.
Those challenges were clearly reflected in the chamber’s top employers list. The company was listed as the sixth largest employer in Clark County in 2008, but fell to 12th just two years later.
Since then, Navistar reached a new contract with members of the UAW Local 402, reached two agreements to build vehicles in partnership with GM and announced additional investment from Volkswagen. Navistar ranked as the third largest employer in the county in the chamber’s top employers list this year.
One of the keys to the company’s rebound locally was the result of negations between the UAW and the company, said Jason Barlow, UAW Local 402 president. The most recent contract included a guarantee that local workers would produce a minimum of 75 heavy trucks per day.
“Establishing a minimum build in our labor contract has been one of the best things we could have done for our workforce and Springfield,” Barlow said.
With weak demand expected in the market this year, the agreement means most competitors have laid off workers while Navistar’s Springfield facility has remained stable.
“We’re in a growth mode and when the truck market starts picking back up, we’re looking to continue to rise in employment numbers, too,” Barlow said.
Planning for the future
The list of employers is also important as local economic development leaders move ahead with long-term planning for Clark County’s future, Franzen said.
Local officials are in the early stages of developing a long-term road map to attract and retain jobs and grow Clark County’s economy faster than its population.
The city keeps track of employment numbers by reviewing income tax withholding figures, Franzen said. The results are similar to the chamber’s list, which shows it’s fairly accurate. The information helps local leaders understand Clark County’s strengths, he said, and any strategic advantages it might have, including highway access, utilities and labor.
“It tells us the health of certain industries and where employment is growing or declining,” Franzen said. “It could signal to us those are conversations we need to have with certain companies or companies who represent certain sectors.”
The Dayton Development Coalition produced a report a few years ago to identify industries in which the county can likely attract further growth. That report showed the county suffered job loss in the previous decade as the economy shifted away from manufacturing.
But it showed although manufacturing will continue to shed low-skilled labor, positions that require technical skills are growing as the industry becomes more automated. That report also showed the county has a strong base in logistics and distribution, and pointed out potential growth opportunities in industries like insurance and Unmanned Aerial Systems, or drones.
“If we have a lot of big employers in one certain industry area, that may be seen as a strength because it’s a strong cluster, or a strong grouping of similar employees” Hobbs said. “That means there’s a strong reason why they’re located here in Clark County.”