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Lt. Gov. Jon Husted talks with reporters after a meeting at the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday morning.

MANSFIELD -- Lt. Gov. Jon Husted believes Ohio has become a midwest destination for high-tech manufacturing, but communities need to be ready to take advantage.

“Ohio is now one of the best states in the country to do business. Businesses from around the globe are recognizing that. They're investing in Ohio, they're creating jobs in Ohio,” he said.

Husted spent an hour Tuesday morning discussing workforce development with local business leaders and educators at the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce. The lieutenant governor cited an announcement from earlier in the day that Peleton, an exercise equipment company, will be building a global manufacturing facility in Luckey, Ohio near Toledo.

“We beat Michigan, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and we won. That facility is being located in Ohio,” he said.

Then he challenged local leaders -- if a similar party came their way, would Richland County have the land, workforce and infrastructure to make it happen?

“If the answer to that question is not yes, then there's work to do. And we want to help,” he said.

Husted urged employers to take care of the state’s TechCred program, which reimburses employers who offer online training courses to their employees. Employees can receive further industry credentials through the program.

He also urged current high school students to take courses through a local career center or university where they can earn industry-recognized credentials.

"The old idea that you either went to the career center or you went to college path, that model’s blown up," he said. "Most students that go to career centers today are also simultaneously earning college credits while they're in high school.”

But not all students are taking advantage.

“You'd be surprised, the number of students who are neither getting a career credential or not prepared for college and who are graduating unprepared for life,” he said. “We cannot allow that to continue to happen.”

He added that Ohio legislators included $41 million in the state's biennial budget to incentivize high schools to develop career credentials opportunities for students.

Linda Hess, director of workforce development at North Central State College, told Husted that area high schools administrators have told her about 30 percent of students don’t have a career or college pathway when they graduate.

A big part of the problem is that schools are struggling to find instructors for credentialed career tech and college credit plus courses.

“What we have a problem with at the university or the college is finding people with proper credentials to teach these courses within the high schools,” Hess said.

She added that instructors have to be considered highly qualified, either through industry experience or a postgraduate degree.

“How do we get funding to help train people to be able to teach some of these?” she asked.

Husted suggested using the TechCred program to train instructors and possibly seek out retiring professionals who no longer want a 50 to 60 hour work week but may be interested in teaching part time.

“You're living this every day, so you're probably going to know more about it than I do,” he added. “If you have an idea on how we can help, bring it to us and we'll see what we can do.”

Husted also encouraged Ohioans to take advantage of the Individual Microcredential Assistance Program (IMAP). The program helps Ohioans who are low income, partially unemployed or totally unemployed participate in a training program to receive a credential at no cost.

"Anybody out there who's a resident of the state of Ohio: there are free career credentials available for you right now," he said. "A career path exists through these programs."

"There are these opportunities out there, you got to take advantage.”

According to the Ohio Department of Development, IMAP training providers cover all tuition fees and additional costs to help participants learn new skills and earn a credential that can lead to a good job.

State Senator Mark Romanchuk said the lack of skilled workers continues to be a prevalent issue in the local economy.

“Workforce is still the defining issue of the day,” Romanchuk said. “The problem is a lack of supply of qualified individuals that have a skill that is needed by business. It's really that simple. It's not a demand problem.”

In response to a question from Hess, Husted also urged communities to take advantage of the $270 million available in state funding to increase broadband where needed.

House Bill 2, which took effect May 17, created the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program and transferred $20 million from the Ohio Development Services Agency to the grant fund. 

A few months later, Gov. DeWine signed a new state budget that allocated an additional $250 million to expand broadband services across Ohio.

Husted urged communities with ideas for broadband expansion to send in their proposals.

“Don't think that this problem will be solved by somebody else. If you have a place in your community, but you do not have access to high speed internet, you need to work with a service provider to figure out what that plan is,” he said. “We’re not going to be the idea people.”

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Staff reporter focused on education and features. Clear Fork alumna. Always looking for a chance to practice my Spanish. You can reach me at katie.ellington@richlandsource.com