“The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.” – French Writer and Film Director Marcel Pagnol
Polishing the Gem City
For the first half of the 20th Century, Dayton, Ohio was a booming metropolis. The industrial revolution changed the course of the city and its surrounding neighbors, steering them to become one of the largest automotive manufacturing centers in the Midwest.
The automotive industry helped to define the Gem City’s place in Ohio’s economy, employing thousands and providing a blueprint for technological advancements ranging from the most basic electric motors to historic innovations in aviation.
Today, abandoned factory buildings in Dayton and Moraine serve as deteriorating reminders of a once thriving economy – but what about tomorrow? What will the next generation have to look forward to? What will Dayton be like a century or so from now? That’s a tough question with, unfortunately, no clear answer.
Most experts caution against unrealistic expectations of a rapid economic recovery anywhere in the country, including Dayton. At the moment, however, initiatives are underway to redevelop abandoned manufacturing facilities and expand research and development programs at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
The City of Moraine was one of the hardest hit when General Motors shut down its last manufacturing facility. The company essentially abandoned 300 acres and more than 4 million square feet of vacant space, including the main plants and supplier buildings and city officials have already taken the first steps to redevelop the site.
Michael Davis is the Economic Development Director for the City of Moraine. He is confident that Moraine will find new tenants for the GM sites. “Our Plan moving forward is well outlined,” Davis said. “We were successful in securing US Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant funds to complete a- Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS).”
“The process is a month and half in and will take six months to complete,” Davis added. “The expectations include a marketing plan, site selection, prospect development, workforce development initiatives and site specific redevelopment strategies for the former GM site.”
“The expectation of the CEDS is to provide a road map for how we move forward both as a region and site specifically with the plant properties.” Davis also pointed out that Moraine is collaborating with other municipalities, including Dayton, in making plans to attract new industries to the area as well as continue working with the businesses that are still here.
Moraine is not alone in its efforts. Dayton’s city officials are also working on the problem. According to Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin, “The closing of NCR was a surprise, but we have all known GM has been dying in this area for 40 years. We have been turning the ship in a different direction for some time, but the public losses were greater than what they see we were doing.”
McLin said that Dayton has four basic assets that will help attract new business and industry to the region. “Water is our number one asset, universities are an asset, health care is an asset, arts and entertainment are assets.” She added that Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) is also a prime asset to the area and she and her colleagues hope that new programs at the base will help restart Dayton’s economy.
“Wright-Patt already employs 23,000 people and with BRAC, we will probably have more jobs coming in there,” McLin said. “We are working with all our partners in the region to be sure that the Dayton region becomes the aviation and aerospace hub, it is a natural fit for this region.”
BRAC is the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission established by Congress to ensure the integrity of the base closure and realignment process. As military installations are reorganized, closed or expanded, BRAC serves as oversight to the entire process.
The realignment of these facilities can drastically affect the surrounding. Fortunately for Dayton, BRAC changes at WPAFB will result in about 1,200 new jobs, approximately half of which are civilian. Additional projects and facilities on the base have also sparked new civilian projects in the area.
Led by the University of Dayton a new facility called Tech Town recently opened on the site of the old Harrison Radiator plant in Dayton. The facility will be used by the Institute for Development Commercialization of Advanced Sensor Technology, or IDCAST (www.idcast.com), to conduct advanced and critical sensor research in collaboration with the AFRL, various academic facilities and private industry. Of course job prospects with WPAFB are not limited to BRAC realignments.
A major employer in the Dayton area for decades, WPAFB has many employment opportunities available to civilians. According to Darryl Mayer, a spokes person in the WPAFB Office of Public Affairs, “People can often find the process of applying for a federal job at the base somewhat intimidating.”
“People who are interested in civilian employment on the base should visit the Office of Personnel Management web site, www.usajobs.com,” Mayer said. “The site lists current jobs and application procedures for positions throughout federal government.” Mayer said the application procedure is generally what frightens off job seekers.
“It is a very involved process,” he said. “There is a specific format for everything, even your resume, which must be followed precisely.” Mayer said that if people are willing to do the work, it might just pay off. Mayer suggested that anyone interested in applying for jobs with the U.S. Government, should go online to www.wpafb.af.mil and click on “employment.” “There you will find links to various departments and instructions on how to apply.”
Would You Like Fries With That?
While Wright-Patt might offer immediate opportunity for some people there will still be thousands of displaced workers around the Dayton area struggling to find a secure position in the region’s economic rebirth. Many will be confronted by the need to acquire new skills in order to be competitive with younger, more educated candidates.
Dr. Jeanette Davy is a professor of business management at the Raj Soin College of Business at Wright State University. “I have worked with a number of high tech companies in the area as well as manufacturing companies that have been here a long time,” Davy said.
“The biggest problem these companies face is a lack of people with the right skills and education for the new jobs.” Davy also mentioned that the last employment estimate she reviewed from the Dayton Chamber of Commerce reported 20,000 positions that went unfilled because candidates lack the proper skills to do the work.
With revenue down and companies doing everything they can to streamline operations, employer-provided training and tuition reimbursement may not be an option. Job hunters who are interested in a particular position should contact the employer directly to find out what educational background is required. If more training is needed, check with a community college or the county department of jobs and family services for possible financial assistance.
In addition to upgrading technical skills, some people will have to brush up on the etiquette of business and how to make themselves stand out in an interview. Like the saying goes, there is only one chance at a good first impression. That first impression could mean the difference between a high-paying job with an engineering firm or flipping burgers at a fast food joint.
Once employed, the individual needs to know how to behave in order to keep the position and, indeed, progress. Leah Hawthorn is an expert in this area. “Eighty-five percent of the reason you get a job, you keep a job, and get promoted is because of your social and people skills,” she said.
Hawthorn is a certified business image and etiquette coach and owner of Advanced Business Image & Etiquette in Dayton. She suggested that people who lost a manufacturing job will most likely need to look for work in other industries and different work environments. That, she said, will require some adjustment on their part.
“Candidates have to be able to walk into the interview with confidence and know how to enter the room properly,” Hawthorn said. “They need to know how to dress properly for that interview, how to make eye contact and use their other soft (people) skills.” Knowing the right people can also help advance a career.
“In a professional business, networking is the key, Hawthorn said. “Take the initiative and utilize social networking on the internet, like LinkedIn, that’s the way everything is going.” She noted that people are now using social networking sites to post resumes and advertise their skill set to potential employers.
Networking is a concept that is well known by Miami Valley business professionals. As small businesses begin to take a greater market share in regions that have lost major companies, people from every industry are using various networking techniques to grow their business and to find potential job candidates.
Dedicated networking groups like Business Network International, or BNI, have become a popular and economical way of marketing. Unlike a chamber or civic organization, BNI is a professional networking and business referral organization specifically designed to help members increase their network without internal competition.
With more than 5,900 chapters world-wide to date, BNI was started in 1985 by networking guru, Dr. Ivan Misner. The membership serves as an extended sales force to business professionals in each chapter. Entrepreneurs and sales professionals meet weekly to educate each other on what type of clients they are interested in meeting and then work together to turn those referrals into closed business.
Several of the chapters in the Dayton area have seen rapid growth over the last year. Steve Teska is the co-executive director of BNI’s southwestern Ohio region (www.bni-ohio.com). “Our chapters have grown on average from 18 to 22 in the past six months,” Teska said. “Small businesses are looking for a cost-effective way to promote and grow their business.”
At an average cost for membership under $400 per year, the investment can be returned often by a single sale. Smaller companies are often noted by experts as the foundation for larger markets. If that is true, then making the right financial choices on Main Street will help to re-direct the future economy of the Miami Valley.
A Penny Saved
Business owners are not the only people who will be looking ahead. In the future, the general public will grow even more cautious when it comes to spending and investing. As the value of investment savings and company pensions continue to roller coaster, individuals who may be losing a job need to be even more careful about planning for the future.
“People who are changing jobs or those who have lost jobs have a very important decision to make regarding their 401(k),” said financial advisor Dan Wolodkiewicz, owner of Pinnacle Financial Associates in Beavercreek.
Wolodkiewicz (pronounced wal-oh-kay-witz) has one important piece of advice for people who are leaving a job with an established retirement plan. “Whatever you do, don’t “cash out” because you could end up losing close to half of the value when you consider the taxes and penalties that may be involved.”
“The downturn in the equity (stock) market was severe in the 4th quarter of 2008 and the 1st quarter of 2009,” Wolodkiewicz noted. “Those who had a large portion of their investment portfolios in equities likely were the most adversely affected.”
There is also a popular consensus among analysts that employers will continue to reduce health and retirement benefits. In the near future, workers may hold sole responsibility for retirement and medical plans – even if the Washington continues its efforts towards government-controlled health care.
The next few years will be crucial to anyone trying to save for retirement or other future financial security and rebuilding lost money will take planning and time. Wolodkiewicz advised, “Seeking out a financial advisor may be a good idea for many people who are faced with this decision.”
Experts cannot seem to agree on how long it will be before the recession is officially over. But, from the point of view of those still searching for jobs or trying to fend off foreclosures, there is no end in sight. Still, the future is not yet written and there is still more to be done.
The Dayton area had not seen such a major socioeconomic change since before the industrial revolution. Endless debates on why and how it all happened are pointless. The goal now is to get things rolling again. The success of the next generation will be determined by what people do today to move forward.