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It’s hard to believe that even during challenging economic times, there are numerous employers across our state with vacant jobs that they can’t fill.

According to the State of Ohio, there are as many as 70,000 open positions for which Ohio companies are unable to find qualified workers.

America has a unique opportunity to address the skills gap that prevents hardworking Americans from finding good jobs and prohibits eager-to-grow companies from hiring the skilled workers needed to expand. Many of these employers are in high-growth industries like biotechnology, clean energy, information systems, and advanced manufacturing. The skills gap denies workers new opportunities and undermines our nation’s economic competiveness.

How can we close the skills gap? We can start by going directly to the source of Ohio’s economic might: our skilled workers and innovative businesses.

Since 2007, I have convened more than 170 roundtable discussions at small businesses, manufacturing plants, schools, houses of worship, and community centers in all of Ohio’s 88 counties. During these listening sessions, I’ve heard about local challenges and possible solutions from community and business leaders, workers, and entrepreneurs on ways to strengthen Ohio’s economy.

With guidance from local communities, I’m working to pass legislation to fill the gap between available jobs and our nation’s workforce. It starts by tailoring local workforce development efforts to meet the needs of local businesses in a regional cluster. Look at the economic development generated around Massachusetts Route 128, which is now a haven for high-tech businesses. California’s Silicon Valley is another success story. In each of these places, businesses were able to take advantage of a locally-based and highly-trained workforce. Over time, these areas have only continued to leverage existing resources to attract more businesses and employees.

The Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act would use existing federal funds to provide grants to community partnerships that align job training to the availability of jobs in the community.

If we’re going to attract new employers to Ohio, we need to ensure that local workforce development efforts support the needs of local industries.

Here’s what SECTORS would do: connect eager-to-work, soon-to-be-employees with workforce development resources, including community colleges, workforce boards, local businesses, and emerging industries.

Several regions in Ohio have already taken a lead on establishing these sector-based strategies.

Sector partnerships have formed around health care from the Northern Ohio Health, Science and Innovation Coalition (NOHSIC) to create training programs that serve Ohio’s renowned health care systems.

Ohio is home to the emerging biotechnology and biosciences industry, led by BioOhio and Ohio’s network of cutting edge entrepreneurs and world-class college and university research organizations, including The Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, and Cleveland State University.

There’s an Ohio sector for shipbuilding and mechanics, led by the WSOS Community Action in northwest Ohio.

We’ve seen leadership for manufacturing and construction training, led by the Greater Cincinnati Workforce Network.

What will these partnerships mean for our state? North Carolina’s Research Triangle and Florida’s tourism industry are good examples of states that have strengthened sectors to bolster regional economic development. These are successful clusters that build around a skilled labor force. Ohio can be just as strategic in pursuing new economic development opportunities and providing new workforce skills training.

And the results will help to improve our state’s infrastructure and create new jobs.

According to a multi-year, random assignment impact study conducted by a nonpartisan and nonprofit public interest research group, participants in sector-based training programs had higher earnings compared to other workers. According to the report, sector-based workers averaged 18.3 percent higher earnings – about $4,500 more than a control group during the 24-month period of the study.

Ohio has no shortage of eager, hardworking potential employees. The SECTORS Act creates partnerships between educators, industry, and workforce training boards to ensure that workers have the right skills to get hired in high-tech, good-paying jobs. And by ensuring a skilled, local workforce, we can attract employers in high-growth industries.