Unemployment to drag in the Valley, official says

By Don Shilling

The Mahoning Valley’s unemployment rate dropped just a bit but is still double what it was last year.

The Mahoning Valley will struggle to return to the low unemployment levels of last year even when the national economy rebounds, a local employment official said.

“Given what’s happened with the auto industry, I don’t think we will get back to where we were,” said Bert Cene, director of the Mahoning and Columbiana Training Association.

The MCTA offers services and resources to youth, adults and dislocated workers in both counties that will increase and enhance their knowledge and skills to meet their needs and the needs of the local economy, according to its Web site.

Drastic cutbacks by domestic automakers have taken away work for auto suppliers in the area, and it is expected to take years for national auto sales to return to peak levels.

The struggles in the auto industry are a major reason why the local unemployment rate has been running about twice what it was a year ago.

Figures released Monday by the state show a bit of improvement for the Mahoning Valley, however.

The combined rate for Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties edged down to 13.2 percent in May from 13.3 percent in April.

“That’s beautiful,” said Cene, who has been looking for any positive signs after the local jobless rate jumped to 13.8 percent in January. “We’re still stagnant, but we’re hoping this is bottoming out.”

The combined rate for the three counties was 6.5 percent in May 2008.

The statewide rate last month was 10.4 percent, compared with 6 percent in May 2008.

Typically, a pickup in employment takes some time once a recovery begins because companies are cautious to add workers, said Cene, who oversees the One Stop employment and job training offices in Mahoning and Columbiana counties.

Plus, the Valley tends to recover even slower, he said.

Among the hopeful signs for the Valley are V&M Star’s proposed expansion to its Youngstown pipe mill and next year’s scheduled launch of the Chevrolet Cruze at the Lordstown car plant, he said.

For a full recovery, however, the area will need small manufacturers to bounce back, and the best hope for that appears to be in making parts for the wind and solar power industries, he said.

The Ohio Department of Development has had seminars around the state to encourage manufacturers to become suppliers for the energy industry. Also, the Great Lakes Wind Network had a seminar last fall in Youngstown to explain how manufacturers can make the transition.

“I don’t see a big windmill factory coming in,” Cene said. “But we can makes plastics. We can do machining. We just need to start thinking differently.”

Locally, Warren had the worst unemployment numbers in May. Its jobless rate of 15.3 percent was the highest for any city in the state. Toledo was second at 14.3 percent, and Youngstown was third at 13.7 percent.

The rates for the local counties were: Mahoning, 12.2 percent; Trumbull, 14.3 percent; and Columbiana, 13.3 percent. Williams County had the highest rate at 17.1 percent, and Delaware had the lowest at 6.7 percent.