Finding the right role for Franklin County, Ohio in its regional economic development took some time.
John O’Grady, president of the county’s Board of Commissioners, said there were plenty of ways to get involved, but many were already established.
“You have the city of Columbus, the state and private employers, all of whom have a role in our local economy,” he said. “We, as a county, needed a niche for helping to create more jobs in the area, but we wanted it to be something that other levels of government were not doing.”
After consulting with various private-sector businesses, that role narrowed down to helping train the job seekers in Franklin County to make it easier for businesses to grow. And even better than training them generally, those businesses said, would be for the county to assist directly with training programs already in place. So Franklin County began awarding grants to employers, four so far, to subsidize the cost of training new employees. O’Grady said those efforts have helped add 1,300 local jobs, including many at IBM’s local facility. Quantum Health, Sid Tool Company and MSC Industrial Supply are also involved.
The county’s investment is $450,000 from its general fund into this program in chunks of $500 to $700 per employee per year. As a result of the agreement the businesses receiving grants will help fill new jobs through the county’s Department of Job and Family Services, the Central Ohio Workforce Investment Corporation and the county’s Workforce Experience program.
For Quantum Health, which provides coordinated care services to members of self-funded health insurance plans, the grants lubricate the training process. Wayne Lorgus, the company’s chief financial officer, said the grant program was a win for everyone, one which helps the company get over a hurdle to growth.
“The biggest challenge for a growing company is to afford to hire people before you can have then engage in revenue generating activities,” he said. “For our employees to take calls from members, they need three weeks of guided training and two weeks of supervised work. That’s a significant financial commitment we make when we hire someone.”
Over the course of 2012, Quantum Health added 106 jobs. By the end of 2013, Lorgus said, the company hoped to at least match that growth, which he said would be aided dramatically by the grants.
“We’ll still have to pay the trainee salaries, but the grants defray some of the costs of training them,” he said. “We’re able to train more people at once and grow faster than we might otherwise have been able to afford.”
James Schimmer, the county economic development director, said the grants had to be used to help add capacity to the recipient businesses.
“We’re not interested in helping pay for the things employees should already know—compliance with OSHA standards, forklift training,” he said. “We want these grants to help the companies bring in new business and grow.”
For IBM, Schimmer said, it was a matter of bringing its worldwide resources to Franklin County.
“IBM has experts all over the world, and we have new employees ready to learn right here,” he said. “They’re using these grants to operate remote training programs so they can have a seminar from Singapore without having to fly someone in. That makes the local employees that much more capable.”
IBM’s worldwide resources beg the question why the county is helping the United States’ second largest employer, but to O’Grady, it’s simple.
“This investment is bringing jobs here,” he said. “With the Central Ohio region being home to the second largest pool of college students in the country, we clearly have a very smart and talented population. They (IBM) are making an investment in our people so it’s not much of a price to pay. Workforce development and training are natural opportunities for our residents.”
The downside is, after they are trained, people can leave. Schimmer, with his eye on the regional economy, isn’t worried about that.
“The quality of life is one of our major drivers here,” he said. “Once people get started in their careers here, they tend to find they enjoy it. If they do move on from one of the companies that trained them, it’s probably going to be somewhere else locally. That highly trained member of the workforce is still probably going to be in Franklin County.”