University of Akron Economic Forum Focuses on Workforce Development

All over the United States, hiring increases and the employment rate is low.

Yet inflation is high, forcing people to pay more for food, fuel, housing and more.

And the number of people in employment still lags behind pre-COVID-19 days as the nation continues to work to get back to normal amid an evolving pandemic.

What better time to talk about how workforce development can improve the lives of people in Ohio?

That was the goal Thursday in front of about 250 people at the annual meeting Ohio Economic Forum at the University of Akron, with Loretta Mester, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, as keynote speaker. Mester spoke about the lessons the Fed has learned over four decades on workforce development, discussed what the Fed is doing to combat today’s high inflation, and took part in a panel discussion.

Resources for job prospects

Mester said she hoped the audience in the Taber Student Union Grand Ballroom came away with an understanding of the Federal Reserve’s experience in workforce and community development and “resources for potential employers and employees to understand their job prospects”.

Keynote speaker Loretta Mester, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, smiles as she is introduced at the Ohio Economic Forum on Thursday.

“I hope people in government agencies and educational agencies and employers here, private sector employers, understand that it really takes a commitment from everyone on these entities working together to really move the needle here,” she said. “And I think it’s in everyone’s interest that we do that, because that workforce really is the backbone of a strong economy.”

The annual Akron forum brings people together to discuss economic issues facing northeast Ohio and elsewhere.

The theme for Thursday afternoon’s two-hour event was “Education and Workforce Development: Key to Ohio’s Economic Future.” The program was born from a recent publication co-authored by Ali Enami, an assistant professor of economics at the university, who said increasing teacher compensation in high-poverty school districts is the most cost-effective way for Ohio to improve student test scores in these districts.

4 Common Themes for Successful Workforce Development

The Federal Reserve’s decades of research and outreach have determined that successful workforce development efforts have four common themes, Mester said:

• Collaboration and engagement between public, private and not-for-profit entities.

• Communication between employers, employees and trainers is necessary to ensure programs are addressing the right issues.

• Place questions. Employers are often attracted to places that will attract workers.

• Workforce development programs should be regularly evaluated to see if they are effective.

Inflation is the “biggest challenge”

After his speech, Mester participated in a panel discussion with Michele Campbell, executive director of the LeBron James Foundation; Christina Collins, who represents eight northeast Ohio counties on the State Board of Education; and Jill Penrose, chief of staff and administrative officer of JM Smucker Co. in Orrville.

The James Foundation works to help troubled adults and children, Campbell said. The pandemic has set school-age children back, and the foundation is working to help them make up for all the ground they’ve lost over the past two years, she said.

Loretta Mester, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, delivers the keynote address at the 2022 Ohio Economic Forum in Akron.

Mester said high inflation is currently affecting low-income people more than high-income people, as the costs of essential goods and services are rising faster than the costs of non-essentials. The Federal Reserve is taking steps to curb inflation, she said.

“We have to bring it down. We have to get it under control,” she said. “That’s our biggest challenge now.”

Beacon Journal reporter Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected] Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or

Melvin B. Baillie