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JOBS: Officials discuss workforce challenges in Springfield

Springfield and Clark County have made recent strides to attract new jobs and are now discussing opportunities to provide better training and opportunities to attract workers.

County and city officials met publicly this week for the second time this year to discuss the biggest challenges facing Clark County, said Warren Copeland, Springfield’s mayor. A similar meeting earlier this year included discussions of the region’s opioid crisis.

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Companies like Silfex and Topre America Corp. have pledged to create hundreds of new jobs in the next few years. Copeland said the next challenge is to make sure local companies are able to find and retain skilled workers. Springfield also needs to find ways to make sure those employees live in Clark County, he said at Monday’s meeting.

“The question is what have we got to offer to get those people to move from where they live now to the Springfield community,” Copeland said.

Cities across Ohio are facing the same challenge, said Rick Lohnes, Clark County commissioner.

“We have some things here in the county we need to fix,” Lohnes said. “We need more housing and there’s always the problem with finding a trained and skilled workforce.”

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Silfex, based in Eaton, has pledged to invest about $223 million in Springfield and recently purchased the former Thirty-One Gifts plant near the PrimeOhio Industrial Park for $11 million. The company is a high-tech manufacturing firm that provides silicon products for a variety of markets. Silfex has pledged to create about 400 new jobs by 2020, said Don York, the plant manager for the new Springfield site.

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In the meantime, the company has hosted several job fairs as hiring has ramped up. He said local companies are increasingly competing for the same pool of workers. The company has worked with OhioMeansJobs Clark County and the Chamber of Great Springfield to try to identify skilled workers.

“There’s a lot of pricing pressure in the marketplace for wages and we’re seeing that go up,” York said. “Over the past 12 to 24 months there’s been rising price pressure caused by competition but also the unemployment rate.”

State data shows Clark County’s unemployment rate ticked up slightly in July, while remaining flat in Champaign County.

Clark County’s unemployment rate was 5.3 percent last month, compared to 5.2 percent in June, according to information from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Ohio’s unemployment rate also crept up to 4.6 in July, up slightly from 4.5 percent in June.

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The county and city are in a better place than they were just a few years ago, said Michael McDorman, president and CEO of the Chamber of Greater Springfield. But he said the next challenge will be to make Springfield an attractive option so workers will consider moving from other communities.

“We have a lot of momentum bringing jobs to our community and investments that are going to move us forward,” McDorman said. “However, with that comes the challenges of housing and building a vibrant community where we can not only retain the talent we have but also attract new talent to the community.”

City officials are working with Dayton-based DDC Management to develop more than 200 new homes on a roughly 53-acre property near Walmart’s Tuttle Road location. However, officials in Springfield Twp. and the Clark-Shawnee School district have raised concerns over how the development would be financed.

“We need to have a lot of different options,” Copeland said of attracting new workers. “A piece of what we’re doing as a city is working with a developer to build some new housing out near Silfex and the PrimeOhio companies so people can buy a house there.”

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