Filling a talent gap in Lorain County is the key to fulfilling in-demand jobs, reducing unemployment and sustaining the economic health of the region. This message was emphasized during Focus Forward Lorain County — a week of presentations and discussions leading up to the Sept. 18 Economic Summit, which was attended in person by 25 participants at the Spitzer Conference Center while others joined via Zoom.

The Lorain County Chamber’s Annual Economic Summit normally takes place in May, but with the COVID-19 shutdown it was postponed until September. Communicating positive ways to pivot after the shutdown was important, so the Chamber decided to engage other economic development partners and host events for 5 days ending with the summit.

“The idea behind these economic summits was for the chamber to be a convener and spur some dialogue between businesses, educational partners, elected officials, and philanthropic and nonprofit entities,” says Tony Gallo, chamber president.

LCCC President Marcia Ballinger kicked off the summit with an overview of the college’s Vision 2025 10,000 Degrees of Impact initiative. It has a goal for 10,000 individuals to earn degrees that will increase earning potential, increase economic mobility and provide businesses with work-ready talent. 

Jacob Duritsky, vice president of strategy and research for Team NEO, addressed the talent pipeline and aligning opportunities. He shared data based on projections from Moody’s Analytics showing that Lorain County has a 7 to 8 percent decline in employment, which is greater than the national projected average of 5 percent. Workforce development can help change that picture.

Businesses learned about dollars available to help train incumbent workers from Mike Longo, Lorain County’s director of Workforce Development. “The incumbent worker training program is designed to provide direct financial assistance to businesses as they train current employees to avert a layoff,” Gallo says, adding this in turn improves the economic competitiveness of the local business. 

At last year’s economic summit, the need for a minority business directory was discussed and Gallo was happy to announce that it was available, thanks to a partnership with the SBDC at LCCC. “We worked with the SBDC, Lorain County Urban League and El Centro to encourage the local MBE’s to take advantage of this vehicle to help promote their business,” Gallo says. 

Virtual keynote speaker Jason Broadwater, an economic development specialist, addressed how the pandemic might affect southern Lorain County’s job hubs related to agriculture. “He also talked about the fact that there is also a civil rights movement taking place and natural disasters on top of a financial crisis,” Gallo relates. “All four aspects affect what the workforce looks like and what we should be focused on, and how it really impacts our vulnerable populations.”

He adds, “We found out firsthand during a global pandemic that with a global economy, we all were affected. We have a vested interest to be a part of the change.”