By Jack Rogers
From the September/October 2020 Issue
When Ohio’s first three positive test results for COVID-19 were announced on March 9, Gov. Mike DeWine didn’t hesitate. The governor immediately declared a state of emergency.
DeWine’s prompt action (which came just five days after California became the first state to declare a COVID-19 emergency) is credited by medical experts with sparing Ohio from the onslaught of cases (and fatalities) that afflicted other large states who took longer to react. In an exclusive Governor’s Report interview with Business Facilities, Gov. DeWine described the point at which he recognized the scope of the impending public health crisis.
“COVID-19 had been on my radar for months before Ohio ever had a positive case. So, by the time Ohio had three positive cases confirmed on March 9, I’d been having frequent conversations with medical experts in Ohio and around the country,” Gov. DeWine told BF.
“I established an advisory board of medical experts to provide recommendations about how to control the spread of COVID-19. It was critical to learn as much as we could about COVID-19 and the potential impacts it would have. Listening to the information from the Director of the Ohio Department of Health and other medical experts, I realized that we needed to act and act fast.”
Gov. DeWine’s safety-first approach in dealing with the early stages of the outbreak also shaped Ohio’s reopening strategy, which drew opposition from a few vocal critics in the OH Legislature who wanted to go faster. DeWine, who also has served the Buckeye State as a U.S. senator, told us that science, not politics, will continue to guide the pandemic response in Ohio.
“The medical experts have told us what it takes to slow the spread,” he explained. “As we have reopened our economy, we continue to remind people to wear a mask, maintain a social distance of at least six feet apart as much as possible, wash their hands and high-touch surfaces often and stay home if they don’t feel well. If we work together to implement these safe practices at work, at school and out in the community, we can reduce the spread of the virus.”
Gov. DeWine has established industry-specific advisory groups who work with health experts to help guide the reopening. “It was critical to include industry leaders because they understand the day-to-day challenges better than anyone,” DeWine told BF. “We wanted to provide recommendations that businesses could implement in addition to the general practices we can all do to help slow the spread. This helped reduce the amount of guesswork for businesses as they opened.”
CREATING A NEW PPE SUPPLY CHAIN, OFFERING A FISCAL LIFELINE
One of the most critical tasks in the early days of the outbreak was to establish a new supply chain for personal protection equipment urgently needed by frontline healthcare workers in the battle with COVID-19.
“I told Ohioans that we would do everything we could to get our frontline workers the PPE and equipment they needed. If we could buy it, we would. If we could make it, we would. And if we could use technology to improve the lifespan of our PPE, we would,” DeWine said.
The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, along with the Ohio Hospital Association, the Ohio Development Services Agency, the Ohio Department of Administrative Service and JobsOhio, formed the Ohio Manufacturing Alliance to coordinate an all-hands-on-deck effort by manufacturers around the state to produce PPE. Some manufacturers created temporary shifts to produce PPE while others made PPE production part of their business models. The State of Ohio has purchased more than 1 million cotton masks, more than 1 million face shields and more than 500,000 gowns produced by the Ohio Manufacturing Alliance and its partners. JobsOhio, the state economic development corporation, facilitated donations to the state’s PPE stockpile from Ohio-based businesses.
Another critical priority was creating a financial lifeline for Ohio’s small businesses during the pandemic. JobsOhio adjusted its strategic plan and made more than $250 million available to fund 10 new economic development programs to support businesses across OH, with an emphasis on small businesses. The programs helped support workforce retention and allowed companies to access capital at a faster rate.
Gov. DeWine also created an Office of Small Business Relief, within the Ohio Development Services Agency, to coordinate state resources for small businesses during the pandemic. Businesses can access information on reopening guidelines, where to find PPE and links to financing resources.
Early in the COVID-19 crisis, Gov. DeWine also modified the process for haulers carrying heavy loads of essential goods. The Ohio Department of Transportation waived requirements and streamlined the process for haulers carrying heavy or oversized loads of food, nonalcoholic beverages, medical supplies, cleaning products and other essential household goods. DeWine also ordered insurers in Ohio to allow employers to offer employees a grace period of up to 60 days to pay health insurance premiums. Health insurers must allow employers to continue covering employees even if the employee would otherwise become ineligible for insurance because of a decrease in the hours worked per week.
Businesses and EDOs at all levels responded to Gov. DeWine’s call to action. In central Ohio, for example, Ohio’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (housed at Columbus State Community College) teamed with Marion Public Health to share best practices for ensuring workforce safety. The team held a free webinar for manufacturing partners across their community and provided listings of companies that had established manufacturing lines to produce masks, face shields and other PPE.
DeWine praised Ohio’s industry leaders for their response to the state’s across-the-board effort to secure an adequate supply of PPE for frontline healthcare workers in the Buckeye State.
“Ohioans are innovators, and they are resilient,” the governor said.
Ohio’s chief executive also is making sure that critical equipment like PPE won’t be in short supply in a future crisis.
Ohio has launched a PPE Retooling and Reshoring Grant program to help Ohio manufacturers purchase the necessary equipment or technology upgrades needed to manufacture PPE. More than 60 companies are participating in the program across the state.
“It’s promising to see that PPE manufacturing is coming back to the United States, and to Ohio,” DeWine said. “We shouldn’t rely on international markets for our PPE. Ohio has a strong manufacturing industry, and I’m hopeful that we’ll see our healthcare manufacturing sector grow.”
America’s industrial heartland has been centered in Ohio for more than a century. What used to be derisively called the “Rust Belt” is now a thriving hub of advanced manufacturing.
Even before the pandemic calamity unfolded this year, the trade war between the U.S. and China had manufacturers rethinking their global supply chains. Reshoring and local-for-local supply chains were trending—a trend that is expected to accelerate as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
Ohio stands ready to welcome back manufacturers who opt for reshoring.
JobsOhio recently launched an Open, Secure Supply Chain initiative, highlighting Ohio’s central location, which enables manufacturers to reach well over half of the U.S. and Canadian markets in just one day’s drive from OH. More than 700,000 Ohioans work in manufacturing; the state’s manufacturing sector produced $112 billion worth of goods in 2018.
Gov. DeWine told us he expects the trend toward reshoring to lead more businesses to locate manufacturing facilities in the Buckeye State.
“I think with our location, strong workforce and the lowest taxes in the Midwest for capital-intensive manufacturing, Ohio is the right place to build a manufacturing business. We have all the building blocks for success here in Ohio,” DeWine said.
DEVELOPING THE SKILLS NEEDED FOR 21st CENTURY JOBS
Ohio has more than 300,000 workers employed by high-tech sectors. Gov. DeWine has made workforce development a top priority of his administration, including programs to increase the number of graduates with the STEM skills needed for tech jobs.
The Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation, JobsOhio and the Development Services Agency are spearheading workforce development efforts. The state has worked with 752 Ohio businesses through its TechCred program to help Ohioans learn new skills and help employers build a stronger workforce with the skills needed in today’s economy. The program reimburses employers for up to $2,000 of training upon completion of a training credential. If every credential is actually completed and reimbursed, Ohioans will earn 7,473 technology-focused credentials.
JobsOhio, along with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, launched the Ohio To Work initiative to help displaced workers get back to work through a mix of accelerated job exploration, coaching, education financing and training. The initiative acts as a partnership between leading employers, training providers and nonprofits across the state.
Ohio To Work will broker a fast lane directly with employers who can bring immediate opportunity or connect workers with training that can provide long-term, sustainable new careers, notably in healthcare, tech and advanced manufacturing. Ohio also has established a STEM skills program for high school students in the state’s Appalachian region.
“We’re working hard to make sure Ohio students stay here in Ohio after graduation and are a part of our workforce,” DeWine said.
STAYING SAFE AND STRONG
While Gov. DeWine has drawn national praise for his leadership during the unprecedented crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio’s steadfast chief executive told us the credit for Ohio’s response should go to the people of his state.
“It’s because of the sacrifices of the people of Ohio that we’ve been able to slow the spread of the virus. I cannot thank them enough for their sacrifice over the last six months,” Gov. DeWine told us. “I’ve told many people, Ohioans are strong, and we can do two things at once. That’s why we’re going to continue to listen to the medical experts and the best science about how to protect each other from the virus, while at the same time, we work to keep our economy open and moving forward,” he said.
The governor is confident this “safe and strong” approach will serve the Buckeye State well during the recovery.
“Our plan for recovery is simple,” DeWine told BF. “We’re going to keep doing all we can to protect the health of Ohioans, while helping our businesses navigate the challenges of the virus. And we’re going to remind people why Ohio is such a good place to live and work.”
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