PERRYSBURG — At the 16th annual State of the Region Conference held Monday in Perrysburg, Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst and Council member Ed Hamaker learned about the role automation will play in economic development.
This year’s keynote speaker at Northwest Ohio forum was SpinGlass CEO Eric Daimler, Ph.D. The meeting also included remarks from Bowling Green State University President Rodney Rogers, State Senator Randy Gardner and Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Group Vice President Guhan Venkatu.
The conference was sponsored by Bowling Green State University’s Center for Regional Development.
“When I first received the invitation, the topic grabbed my attention,” Barhorst said. “As I visit local industries, I have been struck by the number of company executives who have indicated that they plan to use the unexpected windfall produced by the tax cut announced by President Trump to invest in their businesses. Many of them have indicated the intent to use the funds for automated equipment, in part because of the difficulty in finding skilled labor to fill the openings within their plants.”
“While President Trump’s tax plan was met with skepticism when it was announced, with a number of pundits expressing the belief that the funds would worsen the deficit and enrich the wealth, it would appear that locally corporations are planning to reinvest those funds,” Barhorst continued. “My concern was long term — the impact of automation on employment.”
Daimler cited jobs that were lost in the First Industrial Revolution (1770-1840). Daimler specifically mentioned drawing water from the town well and carrying it home in a pail, and how pumps replaced that activity. He also mentioned weavers, whose craft was learned during a lengthy apprenticeship, being replaced by looms.
“The Industrial Revolution resulted in widespread pain and unemployment, followed by significant prosperity. Those who adapted enjoyed a golden age and a better standard of living,” Daimler said. “People who live in the developed world today have a limited sense of historical perspective and have forgotten the initial growing pains. We have a material quality of life that is perhaps the highest in history. Few of us would choose to live in 1800.”
Daimler gave similar examples about the Second Industrial Revolution (1870-1930). Significantly, the Second Industrial Revolution saw horse drawn conveyances replaced by the internal combustion engine.
“Especially in larger cities, manure was a huge problem,” Daimler said. “The internal combustion engine solved that problem, but the internal combustion engine also had unforeseen consequences. The rapid expansion of rail and telegraph lines allowed unprecedented movement of people and ideas.”
Daimler then talked about the Third Industrial Revolution (1970-Present). He described the digitization of manufacturing, and the convergence of technologies.
“Software, new materials, new processes, more dexterous robots and a whole range of web-based services are rapidly transforming manufacturing, and virtually everything else,” Daimler said. “The half-life of a computer app is now just 45 days.”
“West central Ohio rightfully claims its place as the heartland of American manufacturing,” Daimler said. “The region has a critical role to play, but has to understand that robotics and artificial intelligence are every bit as important as agriculture and manufacturing. Agricultural products are just six tenths of a percent of Ohio’s Gross State Product.”
“Our educational system remains calcified,” Daimler said. “The educational system needs a reboot. Not everyone needs to go to college – and that’s reflected by the number of young adults who go to college and drop out after a week, a month or even a couple of years.”
“Students need to be learning statistics at a much earlier age,” Daimler continued. “We have to be growing our own talent, and students have to understand that education doesn’t stop at commencement. They have to understand that they are life-long learners.”
“The region also needs to strengthen its connectivity with other regions – there needs to be integrated planning and partnerships. Those regions that are successful in forming such alliances will have a much better future than those who don’t.”
Daimler then joined a panel discussion that included Amazon Senior Operations Manager Wayne Bateman, NorthPoint Economic Development Vice President Brent Miles and APT Manufacturing President Anthony Nightwander. The panel was moderated by The Montrose Group Founder David Robinson.
Nightswander criticized the educational system for removing the manual trades from the high school curriculum. “While I attended a career center and have been quite successful,” Nightswander said, “I don’t believe that moving forward it is a model that we should follow — or at the least, have some classes available in the traditional high school that allow students to have the opportunity to work with both their hands and minds.”
Bateman spoke about Amazon’s amazing growth. “Amazon was started in a garage with a few employees. GM currently has 180,000 employees. Amazon has 530,000 employees in 175 fulfillment centers. We use robots throughout our fulfillment centers — artificial intelligence and robotics are every bit as big as you think they are going to be.”
“Companies spend 50 to 70 percent of their budgets on salaries, and as little as 1 percent on training,” Miles told the audience. “That’s ridiculous.”
“We have to move to a model where students in school are taught to learn,” Daimler noted. “In a fast-changing workplace, the ability to acquire new knowledge may be the most valuable skill one can have.”
“Both Mike and I found the conference to be beneficial,” Hamaker said. “I think it is highly likely that employees of the future will find themselves working alongside robots. If history is any indication, automation will not displace workers, but create even more jobs. They will simply require different skills than the jobs our parents had.”