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EMILIA SYKES (D)
Ohio Rep. Emilia Sykes views the Akron area as pivotal to reviving manufacturing in the U.S. The 37-year-old lawmaker also sees new opportunities for technological innovation in the state’s agriculture sector.Watch the full interview
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Ohio’s Emilia Sykes pitches the Midwest as the key to jumpstarting U.S. manufacturing
Growing up in a home with two politicians for parents was enough for Emilia Sykes to write that off as a career path for herself – for a while, anyway.
Her parents, Vernon and Barbara Sykes, served in the Ohio House and on the Akron City Council. Her father was also in the state Senate. That meant Sykes had a front row view of the grind their work required.
“I saw exactly what the job was and decided it was not the job for me,” Sykes told Punchbowl News in a recent interview.
That didn’t quite hold. Elected to Congress last year, Sykes now represents a congressional district in Northeast Ohio anchored by Akron, a city of about 190,000 people.
Akron’s name has sometimes served as tidy political shorthand for one of the defining economic stories of the past century. Akron, like dozens of other mid-sized cities circling the Great Lakes, was once a booming manufacturing hub that saw itself hollowed out in the decades following World War II as factory jobs moved overseas.
“This part of the state helped build one of the best middle classes we’ve ever seen,” Sykes said. “But when those jobs were shipped overseas, not only did we ship those positions, we shipped away hope and opportunity for our communities.”
As one of the youngest members of Congress at 37, Sykes now represents a new chapter for Akron and surrounding towns. The area’s recovery from decades of economic churn and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, is a top priority for the lawmaker.
Sykes has been busy in her new job. She is a co-sponsor of the PRO Act, a pro-labor package that would make it easier for employees like gig workers to unionize. Sykes is also a member of the House Science and Transportation committees and has pushed for legislation that would preserve state governments’ ability to review the impact of federal projects on water quality.
‘We already know how to make vehicles’
Sykes said that a critical part of job creation on a local level is understanding the economy that’s already in place rather than trying to invent a new one from scratch.
Policymakers, she said, can start by embracing the major industries that already exist in a state. Agriculture is the largest sector in Ohio. Sykes said targeting technologies and careers in that space would make it easier for new opportunities to take root.
“When I’m thinking about increasing manufacturing, some of that’s going to be technology for helping our largest industry,” she said. Aerial and drone technology, and innovations in chemical, soil and water testing to ensure the runoff from large farm animals isn’t impacting the Great Lakes are all examples.
“Those are the opportunities that we can see,” Sykes said.
Sykes’ pitch to any business considering Northeast Ohio as its new home, particularly in manufacturing, is a simple one: Akron spent much of the 20th century building a lot of stuff, and it’s ready to do it again for the next generation of tech.
“We already know how to make vehicles. All you have to do is just change from diesel or gasoline fuel to an electric [vehicle] manufacturing plant, and we have the talent to do it,” Sykes said. “We can’t just be forgotten about.”
What was Ohio searching for around manufacturing?POWERED BY
Most searched types of manufacturing jobs, past year in Ohio
Source: Google Trends
- Manufacturing engineer
- Traveling manufacturing
- Manufacturing supervisor
- Manufacturing engineering manager
- Manufacturing technician
Making supply chains local
Throughout much of the pandemic, the U.S. learned a lesson that Sykes says communities like Akron have known for years: globalization has real costs, and a big one involves how the world moves its commercial products around.
COVID showed “how weak our supply chains are here in the United States,” Sykes said. And while fixing that will be a monumental national challenge, it’s a problem with openings that many local businesses and communities can step in to fill.
Sykes highlighted programs that encourage citizens to buy local.
“There are incentives that we as lawmakers can encourage for us to ensure that supply chains are local — that there is a supply and demand here locally,” Sykes said.
“As we rebuild those supply chains, we'll rebuild economies all over this country, and Ohio is a great place to start.” Emilia Sykes Ohio Rep. | D
President Joe Biden, for instance, touted the “Buy American” provisions included in the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law during this year’s State of the Union address.
Sykes said state governments could pursue their own versions of that policy. In Ohio, she supported a like-minded “Buy Ohio” initiative while she served as the leader of the Ohio House Democrats from 2019 to 2021.
“As we rebuild those supply chains, we’ll rebuild economies all over this country,” Sykes said, “and Ohio is a great place to start.”
– Brendan Pedersen
Sean Atkins of Cleveland wasn’t fully satisfied with his financial planning career path, he felt confined to a few roles within the financial services industry. Sean supplemented his Finance and Business degree from Cleveland State with two Google Career Certificates in Project Management and Data Analytics. In under six months, Sean graduated with the job-ready skills he needed to secure a Solutions Analyst position at Deloitte. “Thanks to Google Career Certificates, I can use my skills within multiple projects and roles, allowing me to work in any industry.”
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