In the rolling hills of East Central Ohio is the historic, rural, and artistic County of Coshocton. The close-knit community of 37,000 is known for offering residents a true sense of belonging to a place with a reasonable cost of living, low crime rates, and growing job opportunities.
“We have the best of every world. We have a unique historical aspect with the Ohio Canal, but we also have a solid recreation and hospitality industry,” says Tiffany Swigert, Executive Director of Coshocton Port Authority Economic Development. “We have a sense of everyone being neighbors. It is rare in a community that you know almost everyone that you pass; yet, that is embraced here. Everyone waves to each other, acknowledges one other, and chances are, you know that person and their family, which is comforting.”
We last featured Coshocton County in 2016. Since then, Coshocton Port Authority Economic Development has partnered with other community leaders to implement new workforce and business development initiatives that keep Coshocton forging ahead and in a position of strength and growth opportunity.
Businesses have long been attracted to the County of Coshocton and its county seat, the City of Coshocton, due to their features and resources. Situated on State Route 16 and U.S. Route 36 on the corridor between Columbus and Pittsburgh, it is a 15-minute drive from Interstate 77 and 30 minutes from Interstate 70. The county is within a day’s drive of several major markets; plus access to airports, railways and interstates make for easy transportation within the state, across the country and around the world. Uniquely, the county also has a waste water plant with a high strength BOD removal system, as well as an excess water capacity of 12 million gallons per day. The available capacity at the Water and Wastewater plants positions the community for growth and to immediately supply commercial and industrial development needs.
“Our location and other support resources are certainly an asset, but the people of our community are truly our best asset. We have an incredible workforce base made up of well-skilled, job-ready individuals with a strong work ethic,” adds Swigert.
In Business in Focus’ previous feature, we mentioned the City of Coshocton as the “made-in-U.S.A.” city. Annin Flagmakers is the oldest and largest U.S. flag manufacturer in the world, and has been making flags in Coshocton, OH since 1847. Kraft-Heinz (Coshocton County’s largest employer) produces bacon under the brand Oscar Mayer®, the nation’s sole provider of raw pork bacon. “There isn’t anything more American than bacon and the flag,” exclaims Swigert.
“Coshocton has a long history of being steeped in industry and innovation,” states the City of Coshocton’s Mayor, Steve Mercer. “From being the birthplace of the Advertising Specialty industry to the coating of latex gloves, we have created comprehensive and new manufacturing processes which are now used worldwide. We are proud to be The Made in the USA City making products for this global economy.”
Coshocton has the perfect blend of large manufacturers and smaller, independent mom-and-pop employers for its workforce to choose from. For example, Pearl Valley Cheese, an award-winning cheese manufacturer, has been in business in the community for over 90 years, as has Jones Metal Products.
Another notable employer is McWane Ductile. For generations, this family of companies has been the global leader in manufacturing pipes, valves, fire hydrants, and fittings that build the nation’s water infrastructure. It also produces robust utility poles that can sustain hurricane winds.
McWane Ductile is currently going through expansion and looking to fill 120 jobs, including offers for apprenticeships and co-op education opportunities.
“While we have some fantastic employers, we also have about 6,000 people that leave our community each day for work, and we would like to have them back in Coshocton, not just to live, play, and worship, but also to work,” Swigert says.
Sherri Gibson, Business Coordinator at Ohio Means Jobs, facilitates programs that remove the initial human resource legwork for companies that consider doing business in the State of Ohio. In 2015, Ohio Means Jobs helped Kraft Heinz to double its workforce.
“We often serve as a remote HR branch to pre-screen and pre-test candidates,” says Gibson. For Kraft, during their 2015 expansion, we used our conference rooms for interviewing and screening, and then again for orientations when they were onboarding employees. There’s a lot we can do to support employers ramping up, beginning new adventures. Anything that they need in the way of workforce support and resources, we are here to help them.”
To maintain a steady pipeline of candidates for companies, Central Ohio Technical College (COTC) leads several workforce development initiatives. The only institution of higher education in Coshocton County, the college’s focus is on providing technical skills and education through the offering of over 45 degrees and certificates, the majority of which parallel with the most in-demand careers in Ohio and Coshocton, specifically.
COTC has partnered with Ohio Means Jobs, the Coshocton County Chamber of Commerce, and the Coshocton Port Authority to create a free training program for Industrial Technicians called Advancing Coshocton through Technical Training (ACtTT).
Before commencing the program, Tiffany Swigert of the Coshocton Port Authority, Sherri Gibson of Ohio Means Jobs, and Amy Stockdale of the Chamber embarked on a whirlwind tour of BRE visits (business retention and expansion) to gauge the pulse of local employers and their workforce needs.
“One of the things we’ve heard over and over in our meetings with our manufacturing leaders is the scarcity of ready-to-work, right out-of-high school students being retained within the community,” notes Amy Stockdale, Executive Director at Coshocton County Chamber of Commerce.
With this information in mind, the four also collaborated with the area Coshocton Count Career Center to write a grant proposal, and were successful in securing an award that offers the ACtTT program at no cost to area residents, removing financial barriers and student debt. ACtTT teaches not only technical skills, but also integrates 21st century soft skills into the curriculum, which employers desperately seek. This makes the participants extremely desirable candidates in the job market.
“One pillar of that program involves a one-year, apprenticeship style program designed directly with and for our industry partners to train these individuals in the way that our sector representatives want them to be trained, so that they are prepared for the job on the first day,” explains Vicki Maple, Vice President for Workforce Development, Community Affairs, The Gateway, and Extended Campuses at the COTC. “It also focuses on identifying incumbent workers who are currently employed within the industrial manufacturing sector; providing upskilling for employees with leadership or advancement potential.”
One reason technical education and the ACtTT initiative is significant to Coshocton is because nearly 30 percent of the workforce in the “made-in-U.S.A” county is in manufacturing. By preparing the workforce for opportunities within the community, not only is the economy bolstered, but residents will continue to enjoy living and working in a scenic, family-friendly county with an average commute time of just 14 minutes.
The inception of ACtTT isn’t the first time that Swigert, Maple, Gibson, and Stockdale have collaborated. Two years ago, they initiated a Manufacturing Day program for high school students in Coshocton County. Partnering with local manufacturing companies, it is held on the first Friday of October, coordinated with National Manufacturing Day, and serves hundreds of students, exposing them to careers in the industrial and manufacturing sector.
In response to the growing need for healthcare service providers, the successful model was modified and relaunched as Healthcare/First Responders Day. The event was organized in partnership with Coshocton Regional Medical Center, the fire department, and the sheriff’s office with skills training pathway options presented by COTC. The healthcare, public service and medical response sector presents yet another career opportunity for Coshocton residents.
“We had about 120 students involved in our inaugural Healthcare/First Responders Day,” Stockdale commented. “The thing that has really changed our community in a positive light is that some of these kids now know that they want to live here, to be close to their families and that there are great jobs right here in Coshocton. We are hearing that over and over again from the parents as well.”
Other initiatives include the community’s summer manufacturing camp and junior high manufacturing camp, as well as a summer youth workshop series called College Aspire. “We believe that if we reach these students young enough, by the time they graduate they will understand that there are good jobs here in Coshocton,” Stockdale remarks.
Moreover, offering dual enrollment at high schools is another way that Coshocton County stays competitive. Many students participate in College Credit Plus (CCP), the state’s dual enrollment program.
“The College Credit Plus initiative offered here at COTC has been such a humongous benefit to many of our local students. My daughter is a prime example – she almost finished two full years of college before she graduated high school,” says Stockdale.
Additionally, Central Ohio Technical College has recently rolled out a new program offering free college to Coshocton County residents called the COTC Coshocton Promise. The Promise guarantees that the COTC will fund the gap between a student’s college tuition and additional instructional fees, after all of their other private scholarships and intuitional, federal, or state aids are exhausted. The program is available to students whose annual family income is less than $60,000.
The welcoming and hospitable county has cultivated a healthy workforce for years, which has created an inviting environment for businesses that value strong work ethic, communal friendliness, and a sense of partnership and camaraderie with other stakeholders and the community at large.
“The spirit of collaboration that we have here in our community and the benefit of meeting with major players are important, so that we can match them with potential local, regional and state resources that may be able to assist,” Stockdale explains. “We can also look at what their anticipated needs may be three to five years from now, and come back to the table together to ensure that we are fulfilling the needs of our local business and industry.”
Economically strong, Coshocton County looks forward to continuing to work with its employer base as they grow their businesses, and with the workforce base as they advance their careers within the county.
Swigert concludes, “We strive to provide support to our existing businesses, to ensure that they retain their employees. We work on developing new sites so we are an attractive place for new businesses, while working together to make sure we have a prepared, job-ready workforce for any type of new activity. We also continue to build upon our manufacturing sector, which becomes the backbone for economic stability and growth as well.”