Paint. Robotic welding systems. Ice cream. Aerospace hydraulic equipment. Toys. Widgets and whatnots. You name it, and there is a good chance a Northeast Ohio manufacturer can provide it.
“We make pieces and parts for everything here,” says Ethan Karp, Ph.D., president and CEO of MAGNET (Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network) in Cleveland. “We manufacture and supply so much to the auto and aerospace industries, as well as others. These companies are in our backyard. When companies go down, Ohio’s manufacturing economy goes down. A half of Northeast Ohio’s economy is dependent on manufacturing. It’s one of five jobs, but because those are jobs that sell products outside of the region, they bring in money that drives the economy.”
Karp notes that for every manufacturing job, there “are three or four other jobs that serve those manufacturers, from pizza parlors to banks and even a large portion of our health care systems.”
“The manufacturing industry is absolutely not dying. Its productivity has gone through the roof and will continue to do so as technology continues to be brought into companies,” predicts Karp.
However, Karp believes collaborative leadership and partnership must rally around a shared vision if economic prosperity is to be achieved in the region.
“Many people see this idea as Pollyannaish, and as many times as I say there is hope and vision, 10 other people will say, ‘Here’s what is wrong with that and why this won’t work.’ They may be right, but I am a scientist,” says Karp, who earned his Ph.D. in chemical biology from Harvard University. “In science, you learn to poke holes. You say, ‘I think this is what will happen in my experiment.’ Then, I find ways to prove that is actually not the case. It’s not until I find a hypothesis that withstands all of the scrutiny I come up with, that I can find a solution and change.”
Karp says Northeast Ohio has huge competitive advantages to make the region “the manufacturing education capital in the U.S.” He cites impressive education assets, including community colleges and several large manufacturing associations that have their own educational training programs here. He also sees a concentrated, depth of knowledge to guide and mentor others.
“We need to figure out how to gather our strengths before the rest of the country,” says Karp, who was appointed to a three-year term in 2020 as the chair of the advisory Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Workforce Development Board.
Regional and state collaboration got a big boost in 2020 when COVID-19 reared its ugly head. Karp is particularly proud of MAGNET’s role in Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s Manufacturing Alliance to Fight COVID-19. Karp and others, including the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association and JobsOhio, guided companies across Ohio to switch gears and make personal protective equipment in just a few months.
Locally, Karp hopes to see strengthening collaboration. MAGNET is involved with the Cleveland Innovation Project, an alliance of the Cleveland Foundation, Fund for Our Economic Future, Greater Cleveland Partnership, JumpStart and Team NEO. The goal of the Cleveland Innovation Project is to make Greater Cleveland a leader in tech-led growth and inclusion by 2030.
“In Northeast Ohio we are blessed with a lot of philanthropic organizations and great companies. But, in some ways, that creates fragmentation. And, fragmentation can be the enemy of transparency and clarity, which we need to drive concise strategy and related execution,” says Bill Koehler, CEO of Team NEO.
Koehler is a supporter of the MAGNET-backed Blueprint for Manufacturing initiative, which aims to align many manufacturing goals and decrease that fragmentation.
“The Cleveland Innovation Project has identified smart manufacturing as a significant opportunity to both grow businesses and create high-quality jobs in Greater Cleveland,” says Baiju Shah, leader of the Cleveland Innovation Project. “The Blueprint is the vision and plan, and MAGNET’s collaborative leadership will ensure it is achieved.”
MAGNET and the Greater Cleveland Partnership also lead the Workforce Connect Manufacturing Sector Partnership that pools together top manufacturing leaders in the area.
MidTown Cleveland Innovation Project counts MidTown Cleveland Inc., Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve University in its cast of supporters.
“As we plan to strengthen innovation in Cleveland by developing a dynamic and equitable innovation community in the heart of MidTown and the Cleveland Health-Tech Corridor, MAGNET is a perfect partner and a great foundational building block,” says Jeff Epstein, MidTown Cleveland Inc. executive director. “MAGNET’s efforts to inspire and train our future manufacturing workforce will help move our regional economic strategy forward.”
MAGNET’s services are partly funded directly by companies, the Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), other government programs and philanthropic groups.
“We go in, roll up our sleeves and help manufacturers learn what they need to grow,” says Karp. “We create technology, design new products and help with operations (whether that is a new plant floor or just helping someone be more efficient). We also do sales and marketing and help discover or create new markets. Our whole range of services is designed for small- and medium-size manufacturers, including startups.”
Karp would like to see more manufacturers connect with and learn from each other to continue to adopt and change. He also wants barriers some people face when entering the workforce to be eliminated, including lack of awareness of job opportunities, as well as education and transportation challenges.
“There is also stigma barrier. Some people think manufacturing is dark and dangerous,” says Karp. “But it’s not. Manufacturing is modern and technology based. A collaborative vision will help with that perception.”