One vision: MAGNET lays out blueprint for Northeast Ohio’s manufacturing future

Northeast Ohio’s manufacturing history is one of peaks and valleys, with a new collaboration among local industry leaders ready to kickstart the regional build economy into overdrive once more.

On Monday, June 8, Cleveland’s Manufacturing Growth Advocacy Network (MAGNET)—alongside 150 nonprofits, community groups, educators, and industry officials—announced the launch of  “Make it Better: A Blueprint for Manufacturing in Northeast Ohio.”

MAGNET Launch Event - Make it Better: A Blueprint for Manufacturing in Northeast OhioChanneling the insights of hundreds of community groundbreakers, the blueprint stands as a vision for the future of manufacturing—one that revitalizes Northeast Ohio as a leader in high-tech smart manufacturing and creates thousands of new jobs.

“This is a framework to galvanize people—we want people to use that language and structure while setting the same goals,” says MAGNET president and CEO Ethan Karp. “How as a region can we take these disparate pieces and focus on what’s going to make a difference over the next 10 years?”

MAGNET’s soon-to-be home at the corner of East 63rd Street and Chester Avenue.The blueprint kickoff took place at MAGNET’s soon-to-be home at the corner of East 63rd Street and Chester Avenue. Presentations from manufacturing companies and organizations advocated adoption of cutting-edge innovation in building a bright future for the local industry.

Manufacturing comprises nearly half of the local economy, supporting upwards of one million jobs and constituting about 38% of Ohio’s GDP. However, the industry faces a persistent set of challenges that stifle potential growth—among them a talent gap and slow adoption of innovative technologies.

Pandemic-related layoffs haven’t equated to a job-hungry pool of skilled workers eager to join the manufacturing ranks. Additionally, a survey released in 2020 by the Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership (Ohio MEP) revealed that investing in new technology is a low priority for the vast majority of regional manufacturers.

Karp says the blueprint addresses these and other key issues via four critical areas: Talent, innovation, leadership, and technology transformation. Ideally, Northeast Ohio stakeholders will create a collective vision around the report to solve pressing industry problems. 

Launch Event attendees were able to envision the future MAGNET home in the former elementary school on the corner of East 63rd Street and Chester Avenue using VR headsets.“We didn’t want to do something standard, which would be a pretty report with a lot of pictures,” says Karp. “We wanted inspiring stories that talk about the potential of manufacturing to change lives and lift up families. That’s the beauty of the blueprint—it’s a readable document for people to see how digital transformation, new ways of thinking about talent, innovation of new products, and new forms of collaborative leadership can come together to make a real difference.”

Goals include creating 30,000 new manufacturing jobs over the next decade, while forging ahead of other regions in key areas like technology adoption. As for 2021, a messaging campaign will highlight the collaborative spirit required to transition Northeast Ohio into a smart manufacturing hotbed.

One story centers around Automation Tool & Die, a Valley City tooling enterprise that used apprenticeships and a county-wide manufacturing partnership to help close an ever-growing skills chasm. Another example is GOJO Industries, the Akron maker of Purell hand sanitizer, which rapidly pivoted to PPE creation during the height of the pandemic.

MAGNET employees at the Launch EventThese instances show a nimble manufacturing sector ready for anything, notes Karp.

“Thousands of local manufacturers stepped up, making tens of millions of PPE in a week’s time,” Karp says. “If they can shift their entire production to brand new products in a manner of weeks, we certainly in 10 years can be a world leader in smart manufacturing.”

Blueprint backers are ready to designate companies as “lighthouses,” or enterprises willing to showcase their technology to others in the area. Ultimately, raising the region’s industry profile will take the kind of radical collaboration that Northeast Ohio is not exactly known for.

“If a company moves here, they will be greeted by a community that wants to see them succeed, [and] we’ll have an ecosystem of collaboration to make their journeys in technology, innovation, and talent better,” Karp says. “Through this leadership, we can make a more conducive business environment.”

While the blueprint is high-concept and bursting with ambition, its elevated vision ensures that manufacturing remains a critical driver of the regional economy.

“It’s an enticing time,” Karp says. “Manufacturing is going so strong right now. It’s time to lock arms and show the power of this industry and what we can do together.”

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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