Government and community-development officials, as well as community members in and around the U.S. 33 corridor, can expect growth in jobs, wages and local investments in coming years, but they should be wary of looming international trade wars, shortages of skilled workers and reliance on traditional transportation methods.
That was the message delivered Dec. 5 when members of the Fairfield 33 Alliance held their third annual meeting at Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools campus in Carroll. The focus was the future of Fairfield County, with emphasis on the economy, the workforce and transportation.
The alliance is a collection of public- and private-sector groups organized in 2007 to foster economic development along U.S. 33 in Fairfield County.
According to the Alliance website, fairfield33.com, the corridor includes the cities of Canal Winchester, Pickerington and Lancaster and Violet, Bloom, Carroll and Greenfield townships.
By 2027, the Fairfield 33 Alliance board of directors expects 7,500 new jobs to be created, along with $500 million in investments and a 25 percent increase in wages.
Guest speaker Jason Jolley, associate professor of rural economic development and Master of Public Administration director at the George V. Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University, said those are attainable goals.
"Looking at that and looking at the way (the Fairfield 33 Alliance) is being forthright and honest in their progress on those metrics. ... My first observation is you are on the right track," Jolley said. "You have identified ambitious but reasonable goals for your county and where you want to go."
Jolley also noted the Columbus market is "doing very well" amid favorable national publicity about real estate and economic development growth throughout central Ohio, as well as high quality-of-life rankings.
"I think you're in a good position to capitalize on that growth," he said.
With growth will come the challenge of managing it, Jolley said, and that includes dealing with a "regional and statewide labor shortage."
He said robotics and other emerging technologies will aid employers, but those employers still would need qualified employees who are adaptable -- and that includes lifelong learners.
"Are you working in your school systems to develop that pipeline of labor to work in these industries?" he asked.
Jolley identified health care and social assistance as strong work sectors for Fairfield County, with a relatively large number of jobs and competitive wages with the same jobs in Franklin County.
He said such industries as transportation, warehousing, professional and technical services, wholesale trades and management of companies and enterprises have emerged in the county over the past decade and appear positioned for more growth in the next decade.
Although 55 percent of Fairfield County's 67,000 working residents are employed in Franklin County, local income taxes mitigate some service demands for Fairfield County communities, Jolley said.
He also said Fairfield County and U.S. 33 provide a "nexus for connecting Appalachia to Franklin County," which is a "healthy sign."
"We will live and die by how the regional economy goes," he said. "It's important to have a healthy region in Columbus, that the region continue to prosper, and you all certainly are a key part of that."
In terms of threats to the county's economy, Jolley said, local officials and business leaders should consider how they might be affected if their supply chains are tied to the closures of General Motors plants in the Midwest, as well as how they'd fare if the U.S. becomes mired in a trade war with China.
"What companies do you have that may be international?" he said. "What companies do you have that have key components of their inputs coming from China and are you familiar with their supply chains?
"I think this is just something to be aware of."
Other speakers included Jeff Spain, a workforce solutions senior consultant with Columbus State Community College, who spoke about how his college and others are working to prepare students for the evolving job market and about partnerships businesses can forge with colleges and universities to develop and hire employees.
Matt Stephens-Rich, an electric-vehicle specialist for Smart Columbus, spoke about how a $50 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation is allowing Columbus and a seven-county region to create electric vehicle infrastructure and related economic development opportunities.
Stephens-Rich also spoke about possible benefits for companies that seek to forego traditional gas- or diesel-fueled vehicles for EVs.
"There's an emissions benefit, but there's also a cost-savings benefit," he said. "Overall, electricity is about a third cheaper than gasoline."
Stephens-Rich said there are a myriad of sizes of EVs, including ones that travel various ranges before requiring a recharge.
"Bucket trucks, delivery trucks, yard trucks -- these are all things that have been electrified in our area and are operating on a daily operation," he said. "We work with a lot of fleets, big and small."