The Obama Administration wants to help replace lost coal jobs in eastern Ohio by creating a regional innovation cluster to drive job growth in the wood-products and timber sector.
Ohio University will play a key role as a center for data-collection and a resource for training within that cluster. OU played host to the program’s national announcement by the U.S. Small Business Administration at the Ohio University Inn this past Thursday.
SBA Deputy Administrator Douglas Kramer joined OU officials and area economic development leaders at the event.
“Clusters are public-private partnerships that are driving innovation and job creation in our most promising regional hubs,” Kramer told the audience. “We’re unleashing the full potential of entrepreneurs who are developing cutting-edge products and processes that will help ensure American global competitiveness, creating supportive environments in regions with the most need.”
In an interview, Kramer said that eastern Ohio is of particular importance to the Obama Administration, and that the Appalachian Ohio Wood Products Cluster will bring together key interests for long-term jobs and economic development. The three new clusters announced last week join 11 SBA-supported clusters nationally.
The AOWP cluster will focus on the wood-products industry and serve Appalachian Ohio across a 16,000-square mile region spanning 32 counties.
“Although the region’s economy has been strained by recent changes in the coal economy, including closures of local power plants, mines and generators, the wood-products sector that this cluster initiative serves presents a spectacular opportunity,” Kramer said.
The regional wood-products industry has a nearly identical geographic footprint as the coal sector, requires comparable workforce skills, and is one of the state’s top five manufacturing sectors for projected employment growth through 2020, according to materials provided at the event.
“While the area’s wood-products industry has particular strength in furniture manufacturing, this cluster’s industry focus includes a number of sub-sectors, including veneer and plywood manufacturing, flooring and engineered wood manufacturing,” a news release said.
The Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth (APEG) announced that the region’s furniture and wood-products manufacturers will receive $2.5 million in SBA-supported services.
“In furniture manufacturing alone, we have nearly 24,000 skilled workers whose wages and benefits are over $1 billion a year,” said APEG President and CEO John Molinaro. “This is an industry that deserves our attention and can create jobs.”
APEG will provide services including technical assistance to improve manufacturing productivity, the development of a wood products supply chain database, industry workforce training, export assistance and industry research.
OU’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs will perform the research component of the initiative.
University President Roderick McDavis called the announcement “very exciting” and cited the work of Voinovich School assistant professor Jason Jolley, who has served as lead researcher for this project, as well as Molinaro.
“We are extremely grateful for their support of innovation in the Appalachian Ohio economy,” he said. “Ohio University is an anchor institution working with regional partners to position the state of Ohio for long-term economic prosperity and economic resilience.”