Summit County’s jobless rate continues to fall.

The county unemployment rate went to 4.2 percent in April from 4.5 percent in March and was down from 4.7 percent a year ago, according to figures released Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Rates also dropped in Summit County’s two largest cities.

Akron’s unemployment rate hit 4.8 percent in April, down from 5.2 percent in March and 5.5 percent in April 2017.

The jobless rate in Cuyahoga Falls was 4.1 percent last month, down from 4.3 percent in March and 4.2 percent a year ago.

The number of people counted as working in Summit County hit 263,300, up from 260,200 in April 2017.

But there were significantly more people working in the county for the month of April 10 and 18 years ago, state figures show.

The number of people working in the month of April since 2000 peaked at 281,700 in 2008 — that’s 18,400 more employed people than there were last month in Summit County. There were 269,100 people counted as working in April 2000, according to state figures.

Rates fell in 85 of Ohio’s 88 counties and were unchanged in three counties last month. Rates ranged from a low of 2.3 percent in Mercer County to a high of 7.3 percent in Monroe County.

Rates elsewhere in Northeast Ohio for April, March and April 2017:

• Cuyahoga County: 4.6, 4.8, 5.6

• Cleveland: 5.8, 6.1, 7.2

• Medina County: 3.8, 4.1, 4.3

• Portage County: 4.1, 4.5, 4.6

• Stark County: 4.7, 5, 4.9

• Canton: 5.6, 5.7, 5.9

• Wayne County: 3.1, 3.3, 3.5

Reporter Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected]. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ

WASHINGTON: Immigration officials have sharply increased audits of companies to verify that their employees are authorized to work in the country, signaling the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration is reaching deeper into the workplace to create a “culture of compliance” among employers who rely on immigrant labor.

Expansive plans also have been drafted for a long-term push to scrutinize employers’ hiring practices more closely.

Under a 1986 federal law, companies must verify their employees are authorized to work in the United States by reviewing their documents and verifying to the government the employees’ identity and work authorization. If employers are found to hire someone without proper documents, the employers may be subject to administrative fines and, in some cases, criminal prosecution.

The recent focus on employers comes after a surge of deportation arrests of workers that started immediately after Trump took office in January 2017. The crackdown is likely to please immigration hawks among Trump’s supporters but may alienate industries and companies that rely on immigrant labor.

There were 2,282 employer audits opened between Oct. 1 and May 4, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Monday, nearly a 60 percent jump from the 1,360 audits opened between October 2016 and September 2017. Many of those reviews were launched following the January ICE audits and employee interviews at about 100 7-Eleven franchises in 17 states.

There were 594 employers arrested on criminal immigration charges from Oct. 1 to May 4, up from 139 during the previous fiscal year, and 610 civil immigration charges during the same period, compared to 172 in the preceding 12-months.

Derek Benner, head of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit, told The Associated Press that another nationwide wave of audits planned this summer would push the total “well over” 5,000 by Sept 30. ICE audits peaked at 3,127 in 2013.

The agency has developed a plan to open as many as 15,000 audits a year, subject to funding and support for the plan from other areas of the administration, Benner said.

The proposal calls for creation of an Employer Compliance Inspection Center to perform employer audits at a single location instead of at regional offices around the country, Benner said. Electronically scanning the documents will help flag suspicious activity, and the most egregious cases will be farmed out to regional offices for more investigation. Audit notices will be served electronically or by certified mail, instead of in person.

Benner said that putting up to 250 auditors in one center with the right technology and a team of attorneys to quickly levy fines would enable his agency to audit between 10,000 and 15,000 companies annually.

The proposal aims to create a “reasonable expectation” among employers that they will be audited, Benner said.

“This is kind of our vision of creating this culture of compliance,” he said. “I think it’s a game-changer.”

In October, Thomas Homan, ICE’s acting director, pledged to increase workplace enforcement by “four or five times,” opening a new front in an immigration crackdown that includes a 40 percent increase in deportation arrests and initial funding for a border wall with Mexico. In April, ICE agents made 97 arrests at a meatpacking plant in rural Tennessee with a helicopter flying above, reminiscent of the high-profile shows of force that were common during President George W. Bush’s administration.

Benner said the agency will focus both on criminal cases against employers as well deporting employees who in the country illegally. Illegal hiring creates unfair advantages for companies, encourages people to come to the U.S. illegally, results in document and identity fraud and exposes workers to potentially dangerous conditions without overtime pay or health insurance, he said.

It remains to be seen whether immigration authorities can perform enough audits to compel a similar degree of compliance that the Internal Revenue Service does on personal and corporate tax returns. One measure may be the number of employees who voluntarily enroll in the federal government’s E-Verify system to electronically confirm if a person is authorized to work in the U.S.

The most prevalent jobs in the Greater Akron area generally pay too little to keep small families from living at poverty levels, a new report from Policy Matters Ohio says.

While Summit and Portage counties have been regaining jobs lost during the depths of the Great Recession, many of those jobs don’t pay enough to keep a family of three from needing government assistance, according to the study by the Cleveland and Columbus nonprofit research organization. The two counties make up what is called the Akron Metropolitan Statistical Area, or Akron MSA.

“We need to make the jobs that we have be good, decent jobs,” said Hannah Halbert, the researcher who authored the report, “Working for Less: Most Common Akron Jobs Pay Too Little.” The study, released April 30, looked at pay for the top 10 occupations in 2017 in Akron’s MSA as well as Ohio’s other metro areas.

The most prevalent occupation in the Akron area last year was retail salesperson at 10,920 jobs and with a median annual salary of $22,340, the study said.

That particular Akron-area income figure falls below the state median for the same job, according to the Policy Matters study. Out of the 10 most common Akron MSA jobs, two — registered nurses at $69,170 and customer service reps at $33,950 — paid more than the state median for the same occupation.

The report does not determine how many people holding any of the 10 most common Akron-area jobs are living in poverty, Halbert said. A family of three is determined to be at the poverty level if household income falls below $20,420.

While 2017 figures were not available, according to the latest census information, 14.3 percent of Summit County’s 532,511 households had income below poverty levels, an improvement over 14.8 percent of households in 2015; 14.7 percent in 2014; 15.4 percent in 2013; and 14.8 percent in 2012.

The Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank continues to see consistent demand for its services from the working poor, said Katie Carver Reed, manager of the organization’s research and program services.

About half of the people who use the food bank services are eligible for the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, also known as food stamps, she said. But in many cases the amount of food obtained through SNAP falls short of what a family needs for a full month, Reed said.

While employment is improving, the food bank sees that many of the jobs people have don’t pay enough to put food on the table, she said.

“A lot of people are working and need assistance,” Reed said.

Many of the jobs that have been created in the aftermath of the Great Recession don’t pay as well as the ones that were lost, Halbert said.

“We can’t just say a job is a job and that is good,” she said.

“It can be sort of depressing to see how difficult it is for people out there working and trying to make it,” Halbert said. “We’re not stuck with this. We can change this.”

The low pay and slow job growth can be attributed in many ways to government policy choices as well as changes in the economy, Halbert said.

The decline in union membership and other worker protections has hurt the ability of employees to bargain for higher pay, while tax policy changes have often benefited corporations over employees, she said.

State government can do such things as increase the minimum wage and make more people eligible for overtime pay, Halbert said. In 1975, for instance, overtime laws covered 60 percent of salaried workers; that figure is now 7 percent nationally and 7.8 percent in Ohio, she said.

Increasing the overtime threshold from the current $23,220 for salaried employees to $47,476 as proposed by the Obama administration would have benefited 351,000 Ohio residents, Halbert said.

The Policy Matters Ohio report on Akron area jobs and pay can be found at http://bit.ly/policymattersohioreport2018.

Policy Matters Ohio proposals to help working people can be found online at http://bit.ly/policymattersohioproposals.

Reporter Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected]. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ.

WASHINGTON: U.S. employers stepped up hiring modestly in April, and the unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent, evidence of the economy’s resilience amid the recent stock market chaos and anxieties about a possible trade war.

Job growth amounted to a decent 164,000 last month, up from an upwardly revised 135,000 in March, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate fell after having held at 4.1 percent for the prior six months largely because fewer people were searching for jobs.

The gains reflect an economy that has been steadily expanding for almost nine years, gradually putting more people to work after the country endured the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Many employers say it’s become difficult to find qualified workers. Even so, they haven’t significantly bumped up pay in most industries. Average hourly earnings rose 2.6 percent from a year ago.

The overall unemployment rate remained, as in recent months, the lowest since December 2000. The rate for African-Americans — 6.6 percent — is the lowest on record since 1972.

Many economists say the unemployment rate is now so low that wage growth should begin to climb this summer, since employers will face more pressure to boost pay in order to hire workers.

“It’s just not sustainable for average pay growth to be so low in a labor market this tight,” said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at the jobs site Glassdoor.

An encouraging sign for the economy is that the pace of hiring has yet to be disrupted by dramatic global market swings, a recent pickup in inflation or the risk that the tariffs being pushed by President Donald Trump could provoke a trade war. Over the past three months, monthly job growth has averaged 208,000.

Much of the economy’s durability is due, in fact, to the healthy job market. The increase in people earning paychecks has bolstered demand for housing, even though fewer properties are being listed for sale. Consumer confidence has improved over the past year. And more people are shopping, with retail sales having picked up in March after three monthly declines.

Manufacturers added 24,000 workers last month, a sign that possible tariffs on steel, aluminum and Chinese goods haven’t altered hiring plans at most U.S. factories. Restaurants and hotels hired a net 18,000. The health care and social assistance sector added 29,300 jobs and the construction industry 17,000.

The monthly jobs reports have yet to show a consistent surge in average annual wage growth. Even so, workers in the private sector during the first three months of 2018 enjoyed their sharpest average income growth in 11 years, the Labor Department said last week in a separate report on compensation.

That pay growth suggests that some of the momentum from the slow but steady recovery from the 2008 financial crisis is spreading to more people after it had disproportionately benefited the nation’s wealthiest areas and highest earners.

With qualified job applicants harder to find in many industries, employers have become less and less likely to shed employees. The four-week moving average for people applying for first-time unemployment benefits has reached its lowest level since 1973.

The trend reflects a decline in mass layoffs. Many companies expect the economy to keep expanding, especially after a dose of stimulus from tax cuts signed into law by Trump that have also increased the federal budget deficit.

Inflation has shown signs of accelerating slightly, eroding some of the potential wage growth. Consumer prices rose at a year-over-year pace of 2.4 percent in March, the sharpest annual increase in 12 months. The Federal Reserve has an annual inflation target of 2 percent, and investors expect the Fed to raise rates at least twice more this year, after an earlier rate hike in March, to keep inflation from climbing too far above that target.

The home market, a critical component of the U.S. economy, has been a beneficiary of the steady job growth. The National Association of Realtors said that homes sold at a solid annual pace of 5.6 million in March, even though the number of houses for sale has plunged. As a result, average home prices are rising at more than twice the pace of wages.

The DriveIT gymnasium just opened in Akron as a place where brains, not brawn, will get workouts.

It’s a gym only in a cerebral sense — DriveIT is a tech training center whose founders and backers say will help the Akron area nurture state-of-the-art information technology specialists. The facility opened on the fourth floor of the Stark State Akron building off White Pond Drive.

On Monday, DriveIT hosted its official grand opening, with U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles; state Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson; Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro; and Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan in attendance.

DriveIT will teach data science, cybersecurity, business intelligence, software architecture and cloud computing, allowing midcareer people to strengthen their information technology skills and education.

DriveIT’s executives and local government officials also see the training center as an economic development tool to recruit businesses to the region.

“Silicon Valley, watch out! We’re coming after ya, OK?” Shapiro quipped in addressing the opening celebration. “We have serial entrepreneurs that not only know their craft, but are willing to take that to a community as a whole and say, ‘We’re here.’ ”

Information technology is used by almost every business, she said, and DriveIT will help build a pipeline of talent. “That helps us attract even more. That catches fire,” she said.

Horrigan said he thinks the Akron region is doing the kinds of economic development and technology things seen in places such as New York and Boston.

“They’re not doing anything that we’re not doing,” he said. “I think that we just need to brag about it a little more and maybe become a little more organized.”

Ryan called DriveIT a public-private partnership that can help the Midwest compete with the likes of Silicon Valley.

DriveIT’s training also will help the United States compete against the likes of China, which continues to expand in influence around the world, he said.

“This is going to help us be competitive in the fierce, fierce global economy,” Ryan said.

Eric Wise, DriveIT co-founder and chief executive officer, said his business is fundamentally about curriculum.

DriveIT is partnering with local employers to upgrade employee skills and knowledge, he said. Companies simply cannot fire their current staff and bring in all-new people with needed skills, he said.

“The new people aren’t out there,” Wise said. “You have to invest in your workforce.”

DriveIT will offer what it said will be eight to 12 “experiential” learning programs each month designed for professionals in entry and midlevel positions.

Individuals as well as businesses and organizations will be able to buy memberships to take courses — a model similar to what gymnasiums and fitness centers offer.

“We’ll produce world-class data specialists and cybersecurity specialists,” said Eric Ward, DriveIT’s chief learning officer.

DriveIT’s roots and inspiration trace back to the Software Craftsmanship Guild, an Akron “boot camp” that taught software coding out of Canal Place to meet growing business demand for coders. The guild was purchased in 2015 by Kentucky-based Learning House Inc. Wise, DriveIT’s CEO, was also co-founder of the guild boot camp.

Reporter Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected]. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ

General Motors in June will end a second shift at its Lordstown plant, which makes the compact Chevrolet Cruze, putting about 1,500 people out of work.

GM made the announcement Friday before all 3,000 plant employees, according to the Youngstown Vindicator. The car company ended a third shift at the Northeast Ohio plant last year.

Sales of the gas-sipping Cruze have tumbled along with other passenger cars as low gasoline prices have steered buyers to larger SUVs, light trucks and crossovers. The Cruze successfully debuted in 2010, when gasoline prices were significantly higher than they are now.

According to media reports, Cruze sales peaked at 273,060 units in 2014 and declined steadily afterward. Sales have fallen for 11 consecutive months and are down more than 26 percent from a year ago.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. D-Ohio, urged General Motors to use savings from the recently lowered federal corporate tax rate to save jobs at the Lordstown plant.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, whose district includes the Lordstown plant, said he was disappointed in GM’s decision. The congressman said President Donald Trump’s impending plan to weaken fuel economy standards in upcoming years will further favor larger vehicles. Ryan said he will do everything he can to help Lordstown employees who lose their jobs.

WASHINGTON: U.S. employers added a modest 103,000 jobs in March after several months of robust gains, though the government’s overall jobs report Friday suggested that the labor market remains fundamentally healthy.

The unemployment rate remained at 4.1 percent, a 17-year low, for a sixth straight month, the government said. Average hourly pay ticked up, climbing 2.7 percent compared with a year earlier.

The government also revised down its estimate of job growth for January and February by a combined 50,000. Still, over the past six months, employers have added a healthy average of 211,000 jobs, evidence that hiring in the United States remains strong and the economy on solid footing in its ninth year of recovery from the Great Recession.

The pullback in hiring last month was likely payback for an explosive gain in February, economists said. Employers added 326,000 jobs that month — the largest monthly haul in two years.

“Overall, looking through the volatility, employment growth is trending higher and wage growth is starting to heat up,” said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics.

March’s tepid job gain may make it slightly more likely that the Federal Reserve will raise short-term interest rates just twice more this year, rather than three more times. Last month, the Fed modestly raised its benchmark rate to a still-low range of 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent.

The Fed’s policymakers signaled at that meeting that a total of three rate increases were likely this year. But some economists have speculated that if further signs of rapid economic growth emerged, the Fed would raise rates faster to try to keep inflation under control.

The stock market fell sharply in mid-day trading, mostly in response to the latest round of threats by President Donald Trump to impose additional tariffs on Chinese imports. The Dow Jones industrial average fell nearly 400 points.

Last month’s modest job gain may indicate that some employers want to hire more but are struggling to find the workers they need. A separate government report last month showed that there was nearly one open job for every unemployed person, the lowest ratio on records dating back two decades.

Edward Daniel, chief executive of Metropolitan Health Services, says he has raised pay and sweetened benefits to try to fill his 740-person company’s roughly 80 open jobs. Daniel’s firm, based in Herndon, Virginia, provides services to hospitals, such as valet parking and “sitters,” who stay with elderly or mentally ill patients after they’ve been sent home from operations.

“Across the board, hiring is a challenge,” Daniel said.

His pay for sitters has increased from $10 to $12 an hour, mostly to keep up with raises at retailers and fast food restaurants.

The company now offers a 401(k) to all employees after 30 days on the job and provides a prescription drug discount card. By June of next year, it plans to pay half its employees’ educational costs.

It’s a big change, Daniel said, from a decade ago, when the company offered no benefits at all. Since then, the company’s business has grown steadily.

Some of the drop-off in hiring for March was likely weather-related, with late spring snowstorms blanketing the Northeast, closing construction sites and potentially postponing shopping trips for spring clothes. Construction companies cut 15,000 jobs, the sharpest monthly drop in three years, after five months of big gains. Retailers shed 4,400. Hotels and restaurants added just 4,300 workers, the fewest in six months.

Some higher-paying sectors still posted solid gains: Manufacturers added 22,000 jobs. Professional and business services, which include such fields as accounting and architecture, gained 33,000.

The U.S. economy appears to be sturdy, with the recovery from the 2008-2009 Great Recession now the second-longest expansion since the 1850s, when economists began tracking recessions and recoveries. Still, the expansion has been puzzlingly slow, with economic growth averaging just 2.2 percent a year — about a percentage point below the historical average. But its durability has been broadly beneficial.

For example, a rising number of working-age Americans have begun looking for a job and finding one, reversing a trend from the first few years after the recession when many of the unemployed grew discouraged and stopped looking for work.

An increasing need to compete for workers may also finally be lifting wages in some sectors. Yet the steady influx of new workers, which gives employers more hiring options than the low unemployment rate might otherwise suggest, may be holding back overall pay growth.

Though the economy likely slowed in the first three months of this year, economists expect growth will rebound in the coming months. Macroeconomic Advisers, a consulting firm, forecasts that the economy grew at just a 1.4 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter — less than half the 2.9 percent annual pace of the October-December quarter. But the firm expects growth to rebound to a decent 3.1 percent annual pace in the current April-June quarter.

Other reports indicate that growing optimism among businesses and consumers should help propel the economy in the months ahead.

Businesses have stepped up their spending on manufactured goods, helping lift factory output. And last month, factories expanded at a healthy pace after having grown in February at the fastest rate since 2004, according to a private survey.

RICHFIELD: Deb Makowski, a second-year union apprentice who works heavy equipment on natural gas and oil pipelines near the Ohio River, said she was looking forward to seeing President Donald Trump in person Thursday.

And she was glad she did.

Makowski, a Barberton resident, was one of hundreds of people — many union members like her — invited to sit in on Trump’s talk on a massive infrastructure spending plan in the specialized Operating Engineers Local 18 training facility in the village of Richfield.

“I believe 150 percent in what he said. It’s a lot overdue,” said Makowski, 60, shortly after Trump’s 2 p.m. speech ended.

The invitation-only and overwhelmingly Trump-friendly audience sat on chairs on the compacted dirt floor or stood at the rear of the cavernous metal-roofed building, which is used to provide year-round training on heavy equipment, including large excavators and bulldozers.

A banner hanging from the metal ceiling behind Trump read “Building A Stronger America.” Behind the president on either side were small bleachers filled with people wearing hard hats.

Like Makowski, some in the audience afterward liked what the president had to say about a $1.5 trillion infrastructure spending plan, but added they would have preferred more details.

Trump talked about U.S. infrastructure needs and spending during his speech, but also touched on a wide range of other issues, including foreign policy, the opioid epidemic, school shootings and the Second Amendment, health care, veterans, and more, including jabs at the “fake news” media.

Chris Krosnick, 52, from North Canton, was among the select few who sat in the bleachers behind Trump. He said he decided to change careers and train on heavy equipment after his small delivery business of 26 years failed in 2013. His daughter, Tia, also joined the Local 18 program, he said.

“[Trump] wants to build infrastructure. He didn’t give many specifics,” Krosnick said. “I’m thrilled he’s taking the initiative.”

Krosnick said while his father is a strong Trump supporter, he has not been. But he said that might change.

“I’m starting to like him a lot more,” Krosnick said.

Terri Davis drove three hours from Dayton with her husband to attend Trump’s speech and learn more about plans to improve the nation’s infrastructure.

“He had a lot of good things to say,” Davis said.

She said she liked a lot of what she heard Trump say because if they are enacted it means more jobs.

Davis said she has not been a Trump supporter. “I’m on the fence,” she said.

Nichole Stewart, a 27-year-old Cambridge resident, learned to operate heavy equipment from the Local 18 program. She said she is a Trump supporter and enjoyed the president’s speech.

“I like the fact that he’s trying to make more work for Americans,” she said.

For Stewart and others in the building, this was the first time they have seen a U.S. president in person.

“It was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m glad to be part of it,” Stewart said.

“It was a big deal that I even got to see the president,” said Sharon Harsh. The 50-year-old Canton resident said she is an apprentice in Local 18 and can run almost any piece of heavy equipment that has a seat.

Harsh said she didn’t vote for Trump, but hopes he helps America and that the infrastructure spending plan is passed to create job opportunities.

“I’m all for the worker,” she said.

Bill Thomas, 46, from Steubenville in Jefferson County, said he is a member of Laborer’s Local 809.

Thomas said he liked some of what Trump said, but added that some things the president talked about were “off.”

“More jobs is good. But I’d like to see it progress from his promises,” Thomas said. “I just hope he keeps his promises.”

Reporter Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected]. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ

“It was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m glad to be part of it.”

Nichole Stewart

27-year-old Cambridge resident

Summit County’s jobless rate so far early into the year is trending in a good way.

The county’s unemployment rate for February fell to 4.8 percent, down from 5.2 percent in January and down from 5.9 percent a year ago.

Akron’s unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent last month from 5.9 percent in January and down from 6.7 percent a year ago.

The jobless rate in Cuyahoga Falls for February was 4.4 percent, down from 4.8 percent in January and 5.4 percent in February 2017.

There were 260,500 people counted as working in Summit County in February, up from 255,900 in February 2017.

Even so, the county still has not recovered all the jobs lost during the Great Recession, and has fewer people working now than in February 2000.

Since 2000, the number of people working in the month of February peaked at 278,600 in 2008. The low for the month was 247,600 in February 2010, when the jobless rate was 12.1 percent.

There were 265,000 people employed in Summit County in February 2000, which is 4,500 more than last month.

The unemployment rate fell in 83 Ohio counties in February, increased in four counties, and was unchanged in one, according to figures released Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Mercer County had the lowest unemployment rate in Ohio at 2.9 percent, while Monroe County had the highest rate at 10.4 percent.

Rates were not adjusted to take into account seasonal factors.

Ohio had a comparable jobless rate of 4.8 percent for February; the seasonally adjusted figure was 4.5 percent.

The U.S. had a 4.4 percent unemployment rate, with the seasonally adjusted rate at 4.1 percent for February.

Jobless rates elsewhere in Northeast Ohio for February, January and a year ago:

• Cuyahoga County: 5.7, 5.6, 7.2

• Cleveland: 7.2, 7.1, 9.1

• Medina County: 4.9, 4.8, 6.1

• Portage County: 5, 5.4, 6.2

• Stark County: 5.2, 5.6, 6.3

• Canton: 5.9, 6.4, 7.3

• Wayne County: 3.7, 4, 4.6

Reporter Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected]. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown will take part in an informational meeting Thursday morning in Akron on multi-employer pension plan solvency.

The meeting, at the United Steel Workers Local 2 Hall, is open to active and retired members of all unions, employers and organizations that are concerned about pension solvency.

The program will run from 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. and include time for questions and answers. The union hall is at 501 Kelly Ave.

Brown, D-Ohio, is co-chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multi-employer Pension Plans.

The program’s other speaker will be Mike Walden of the National United Committee to Protect Pensions. Walden, a retired Teamster who lives in Cuyahoga Falls, has, along with his committee, been one of the leading advocates nationwide seeking solutions to shore up failing multi-employer pension plans.

COLUMBUS: State officials say Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 percent in February but remained higher than the national rate.

The state unemployment rate decreased from 4.7 percent in January and was lower than the 5.1 percent rate of February 2017.

The national rate was 4.1 percent in February, unchanged from January, and down from 4.7 percent in January 2017.

The state Department of Job and Family Services says Ohio’s nonagricultural wage and salary employment increased by 13,400 jobs in February.

Job gains were reported in sectors that include educational and health services; leisure and hospitality; financial activities; other services; and trade transportation and utilities. Those gains exceeded losses in professional and business services and information.

Government employment in Ohio decreased by 300 jobs in February.

Milan “Mike” Stone worked hard to help his fellow union members and to preserve their jobs.

Stone led the former United Rubber Workers union in the ’80s during turbulent times in the tire industry.

Stone died on March 3. He was 90.

He succeeded Peter Bommarito in 1981 as president of the then 100,000-member URW, a position he held until 1990. (The union merged with the United Steelworkers in 1995.)

Stone became international president of the Akron-founded union during a period when tire manufacturers moved from Akron and downsized or shut down factories in the city and elsewhere in the United States. Some 30 U.S. tire plants closed during that period, with all but one employing URW workers.

In sharp contrast to his predecessor, the “bombastic” Bommarito, Stone had an understated Midwestern personality, news stories at the time reported.

“He was a straight shooter,” recalled BruceMeyer, editor of Rubber & Plastic News and who authored a book on the history of the URW. “He was true to his cause. Fighting for workers is what he did.”

Meyer said Stone likely did not get the recognition and credit he deserved during his time as URW president.

“His tenure as president in the ’80s was probably as bad a time as you would pick,” Meyer said. “He really had to go with things a different way. He dedicated his life to fight for the rights of workers. … I don’t think he had any regrets for leading the way he did during his tenure.”

David Martin was Stone’s assistant from 1985 to 1990.

“He was president of the union during some very troubling times,” Martin said. Those troubles stemmed in part from the switch from bias-ply to radial tires, which led to the closing of numerous factories during that period, he said.

Many of the tire plants that remained open turned out to employ union members who did not look favorably on the Stone presidency and ultimately led to his ouster as international president, Martin said.

“When someone was on the other side of the political fence, [Stone] did not hold that against him,” Martin said. “He treated them with fairness and with dignity.”

Martin said Stone was a great friend of his.

“I’m going to miss him,” Martin said. “I can’t say his praises enough.”

J. Curt Brown, retired public relations director for the URW, said Stone was a big man with a big laugh who remained humble.

“He was very dedicated to the working woman and man,” Brown said. “He was not taken with himself. He didn’t seem to be eager for fame and fortune. … He was more interested in getting good contracts and seeing that plants stayed open, which we didn’t have a lot of control over. … He was a good man.”

Industry analysts described Stone as someone who was loyal to the union and who bargained firmly but also was reasonable during contract negotiations.

He was the son of a Wisconsin farmer and went to work at age 19 at the Uniroyal Tire Plant in Eue Claire, Wis., after serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II.

His involvement with union leadership began when he became shop steward at the plant in 1946.

Stone told the Akron Beacon Journal in 1990 that his style was “one of a plain old-fashioned rubber worker. I’m the kind of guy that really can’t feel any different today than when I was a steward in the [Wisconsin] plant 35 years ago.”

Stone at that time was running for re-election to another three-year term as URW president. He lost that contest to Kenneth Coss, a man Stone had appointed as the union secretary-treasurer and who, at one point, had endorsed Stone’s leadership.

In his farewell speech as president at the URW’s 1990 convention, Stone reflected on his career and the union.

“This union has been my life,” he said. “This union has been good to me and I think I’ve been good to this union. … It isn’t old-fashioned to be loyal. It isn’t old-fashioned to be honest. It isn’t old-fashioned to be dedicated to a cause and it’s not old-fashioned to be respected by your peers and adversaries alike.”

He urged convention-goers to “take care of this mighty fine union.”

He is survived by his wife, Patricia; a sister, Leatrice Solberg; a brother, Lamoine; a son, Bruce; a daughter, Cheryl Komlanc; 14 grandchildren; several great-grandchildren; and nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, Thelma and Oscar Stone; sons Jerry and Lee; stepdaughter Richelle “Rikki” Kasner; and stepson James Ernst.

Graveside services for family and close friends will be announced at a later date.

The family asks that memorial contributions be made to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN. 38105.

Arrangements are by Hopkins Lawver Funeral Homes, Uniontown.

Gender inequality in the corporate workplace remains a systemic problem, says Jewelle Bickford.

Bickford, the keynote speaker at Thursday’s Akron Roundtable program at Quaker Station in downtown Akron, said workplaces are structurally engineered against women.

“We must change the power dynamic,” she said. Women face challenges in the corporate world and companies can help give them power, access and opportunity, she said.

Bickford is the co-founder of Paradigm for Parity, an organization created two years ago to address corporate leadership gender issues “and level the playing field.” She is a partner and financial advisor in Evercore Wealth Management LLC in New York.

Bickford said the idea is not to shame or blame companies and male executives, but to work to make change so that women are treated equally and are identified early in their careers so that they have the opportunities to rise to the highest levels in executive leadership.

There are just 28 women chief executive officers in Fortune 500 companies, down from 32 recently, she said. For far too long, men have had an image of what women should be doing with their lives “and it’s holding women back,” she said.

The corporate world this year finds itself at a tipping point in light of the #MeToo movement, Bickford said.

“Women are no longer willing to sit quietly while they are disrespected at work,” she said. “Whether it’s harassment or unequal pay, the priority for many companies in the past has been to guard against lawsuits, not to create safe working environments for women. This is changing. And companies are realizing that inaction is no longer an option.”

Sexual harassment and the pay gap are symptoms of a systemic problem, Bickford said. Workplaces that are structurally engineered against women must be changed, she said.

Paradigm for Parity calls for full gender parity by 2030. The organization is made up of corporate business leaders, board members and others.

The organization has a five-point action plan that companies and executives can use to address workplace gender issues:

• Minimize or eliminate unconscious bias

• Significantly increase the number of women in leadership roles

•Measure targets at every level and communicate progress and results regularly

• Base career progress on business results and performance, not on presence.

• Identify women with potential and give them sponsors and mentors.

A culture of inclusiveness and collaboration pays off, Bickford said.

Companies that are good examples of addressing gender inequality include Newmont Mining Corp. and professional services firm Accenture, Bickford said. Both of those businesses are part of Paradigm for Parity.

Other companies in the Paradigm for Parity coalition include Walmart, American Electric Power, Red Robin, Bank of America, Nordstrom, Cargill, Coca Cola, KeyCorp, Anthem, Hershey, LinkedIn, and Yum! brands.

Reporter Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected]. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ

Summit County’s January unemployment rate was up from December but substantially lower than a year ago.

The county had a jobless rate of 5.2 percent in January, up from 4.8 percent in December and down from 6.2 percent in January 2017, according to figures released Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Akron’s unemployment rate rose to 5.9 percent in January from 5.4 percent in December but was down from 7 percent a year ago.

Likewise, the jobless rate in Cuyahoga Falls rose to 4.8 percent in January from 4.6 percent in December and was down from 5.8 percent in January 2017.

There were 255,100 people counted as employed in Summit County in January, up from 253,500 in January 2017. That’s the highest level of employed people for January dating back to 2010 when the unemployment rate for the month was 12.3 percent with 245,500 people counted as working.

But while jobs figures are improving, the number of working people in the county continues be significantly below levels of 10 years ago — even going back 18 years.

For the month of January since 2000, the number of people counted as working peaked at 277,200 in 2008. The low, 244,900, was in January 2013.

There were 262,400 people counted as working in Summit County in January 2000 — 7,300 more employed people than in January 2018.

Unemployment rates rose in all 88 Ohio counties from December 2017 to January 2018. Rates ranged from a low of 3.1 percent in Mercer County to a high of 11.2 percent in Monroe County.

The jobs figures were not adjusted to take into account seasonal factors.

Ohio had a comparable unemployment rate of 5.1 percent in January, with the seasonally adjusted figure at 4.7 percent. The U.S. had a 4.5 percent jobless rate in January, with the seasonally adjusted rate at 4.1 percent.

Unemployment rates elsewhere in Northeast Ohio for January, December and January 2017:

• Cuyahoga County: 5.6, 4.8, 6.6

• Cleveland: 7.1, 6, 8.5

• Medina County: 4.8, 4, 5.7

• Portage County: 5.4, 4.7, 6.5

• Stark County: 5.6, 5, 6.6

• Canton: 6.4, 5.8, 7.6

• Wayne County: 4, 3.8, 4.9

February city and county unemployment figures are scheduled to be released on March 27.

Reporter Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected]. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ

WASHINGTON: U.S. employers went on a hiring binge in February, adding 313,000 jobs, the most in any month since July 2016, and drawing hundreds of thousands of people into the job market.

At the same time, average wages rose 2.6 percent over the past 12 months, a slowdown from January’s accelerated pace, which had spooked investors because it raised fears of high inflation. Friday’s jobs report from the government revised down January’s year-over-year wage gain by one-tenth of a point to 2.8 percent.

An influx of new job seekers in February kept the unemployment rate unchanged at a low 4.1 percent.

News of the unexpectedly robust job growth sent stock futures up after the report was released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.

Last month’s hiring surge might have reflected, in part, confidence among some businesses that the Trump administration’s tax cuts will accelerate consumer and business spending. Consumer optimism jumped to its highest level since 2000 last month, likely reflecting higher after-tax incomes resulting from the tax cuts.

Hiring was solid across a wide range of industries in February, including higher-paying sectors such as construction, which added 61,000 jobs, the most since 2007, before the Great Recession began. Retailers added 50,000, the most in two years. Financial services gained 28,000, the biggest increase since 2005.

The government also revised up its estimate of job growth in December and January by a combined 54,000.

The consistently strong pace of hiring has led many more people who had been on the sidelines to start looking for work. Most of those new job seekers found work in February, leaving the number of unemployed little changed. The proportion of adults who either have a job or are looking for one rose to 63 percent from 62.7 percent.

In the meantime, economists are calculating how the Trump administration’s decision Friday to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum might affect the job market. The Trade Partnership, a consulting firm, estimates that the tariffs could eliminate roughly 145,000 jobs. Still, the administration has opened the door to so many possible exemptions from the tariffs that an accurate estimate of the impact on jobs is all but impossible.

Steel and aluminum producers would presumably hire more people. But those gains would be more than offset, Trade Partnership calculates, by sharp job losses among companies that use the metals, such as automakers, packaged food companies and those that make industrial machinery.

During 2017, the stock market, as measured by the S&P 500 index, surged 19 percent, partly on anticipation of corporate and individual tax cuts. Yet barely a month after the tax cuts became law, investors shifted their focus to the potential consequences: Faster growth that might intensify inflation and lead the Fed to accelerate its rate hikes.

There have been some signs that price pressures are picking up. But overall, inflation remains in check. The inflation gauge that the Fed tends to monitor most closely shows an increase of just 1.7 percent from a year earlier, below the central bank’s 2 percent target level.

Most economists expect growth to pick up in the coming months and to accelerate inflation slightly by year’s end. They have forecast that the economy will expand at just a 2 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter before topping 3 percent in the next two quarters.

And manufacturers expanded at the fastest pace in nearly 14 years in February, according to a survey of purchasing managers.

The housing market, too, remains generally solid, with demand for homes strong in much of the country, though rising mortgage rates may begin to slow sales.

Tallmadge-based Froggerjobs.com has postponed a job fair originally scheduled for this weekend at the site of the former Macy’s department store at Chapel Hill Mall in Akron.

Froggerjobs.com CEO John O’Neil said the mall requested the postponement so that it could make a maintenance update.

The job fair is now scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 20-21.

O’Neil said the space can accommodate as many as 500 employers’ booths, and those wishing to reserve space can call 844-856-1466.

The event is expected to be the first use of the Macy’s space since the store — one of the mall’s three retail anchors — closed in early May. Since then, another anchor store, Sears, has also closed and a handful of other national retailers have exited the mall.

Brandon Bounds can be reached at 330-996-3762 or [email protected]. Follow Bounds on Twitter at brandonbounds_.

J.M. Smucker Co. is pouring sugar on thousands of employees in the form of $1,000 bonuses.

The Orrville food company announced the employee bonuses as part of its third quarter earnings report released Friday morning.

Corporate earnings were significantly higher than a year ago in large part because of federal tax reform that lowered corporate tax rates. Smucker also increased its earnings outlook for the year.

The company said it is giving $1,000 one-time bonuses to nearly 5,000 employees, will make $1 million in charitable contributions, and will contribute an additional $20 million to its employee pension plan because of federal tax reform.

Smucker reported net income of $831.3 million, or $7.32 per share, on revenue of $1.9 billion for the quarter ending Jan. 31. The bulk of the net income increase was due to a nonrecurring benefit from recently enacted federal tax reform, the company said.

The company had adjusted earnings of $2.50 a share for the quarter, up 25 percent from a year ago.

A year ago, Smucker reported net income of $134.6 million, or $1.16 a share, on revenue of $1.87 billion.

Third quarter revenue and profit were boosted by strong coffee and pet food sales, while U.S. food sales declined.

The company announced results before the stock market opened.

Earnings and revenue beat analyst estimates.

Shares rose Friday afternoon after dipping in the day, closing up $1.81, or 1.5 percent, at $124.02.

“We had a strong third quarter, with sales growth for key brands in every business and strong earnings per share growth fueled by the benefits of U.S. income tax reform and ongoing cost discipline,” Mark Smucker, chief executive officer, said in a statement.

“These results reflect our commitment to delivering top and bottom line growth and supporting our portfolio of iconic and emerging brands. In addition, the benefits of income tax reform provide incremental fuel to invest in our growth initiatives and support our employees and communities as well as opportunities to increase cash returned to shareholders.”

Third quarter coffee sales increased $12.9 million to $550.5 million compared to a year ago.

U.S. food sales fell $5.7 million to $511.6 million compared to a year ago.

Pet food sales in the United States rose by $11 million to $561.9 million compared to the third quarter of 2017.

International sales totaled $279.3 million, up $6.3 million from a year ago.

The company said it now expects to have adjusted earnings of $8.20 to $8.30 a share for the full 2018 fiscal year compared to previous estimates of $7.75 to $7.90 a share.

Full year revenue is expected to be flat to down slightly compared to fiscal 2017.

Smucker food, coffee and pet food brands include Smucker’s, Folger’s, Jif, Crisco, Dunkin’ Donuts, Cafe Buselo, Pillsbury, Milk-Bone, Meow Mix, 9Lives and others.

The recent stock market correction and ongoing volatility are happening in an economic upturn and do not appear to be something to lose much sleep over, Huntington Bank’s chief investment officer says.

Meanwhile, the Akron-area economy is performing well but also needs to generate more jobs, Huntington’s John Augustine said during an economic forecast presentation Tuesday morning. He spoke before about 300 people at a breakfast meeting in the Sheraton Suites in downtown Cuyahoga Falls, touching on stocks and investments, economic indicators and more.

“The stock market is going through an adjustment phase,” Augustine told the audience.

But not because of a bad economy.

“It’s coming from a position of strength,” Augustine said. The U.S. and global economy are doing well and should continue to do well, Augustine said.

The 30-stock Dow Jones industrial average had the fastest 10 percent correction in decades and has recently bounced back several percentage points, he said. The main reason for the correction is that stocks grew too far too fast in January, he said.

“Now markets are trying to find the right level,” he said. “It’s most interesting because it comes from a position of strength.”

This is a good time for people to review their investments, to rebalance out-of-alignment portfolios and to look at upgrading their investments if need be, Augustine said.

The U.S. economy is going to benefit later this year by the influx of hundreds of billions of dollars because recent U.S. tax reform cut corporate tax rates, he said.

That means employees will see such things as better employer matches in retirement plans, the repatriation of corporate money into the U.S. and more, he said.

“You are probably going to hear a lot of dividend increases this spring,” Augustine said.

Corporate earnings “are going up noticeably,” which is good for stock prices, he said.

People and businesses need to “turn optimism into action,” he said. For individuals, that means working this year on improving their investments and financial management, he said.

Augustine said his previous economic forecast for 2018 may need to be revised upward.

“What is all this money going to do when it hits the economy?” he said.

The U.S. economy historically grew at an average of 3 percent a year, Augustine said. That average growth fell down to the “2s” in the aftermath of the Great Recession, he said.

“Now it’s going to speed up,” Augustine said. “The economy is doing fine.”

Not every economic segment will shine, he noted.

The automobile industry likely will be “sideways” for a while, Augustine said. That has implications for all the businesses that rely on the U.S. auto industry, he said.

Meanwhile, housing construction appears to be improving based on building permit figures, he said.

Good news for the manufacturing-heavy Midwest is that capital expenditures are increasing and exports are up, he said.

“A lot of our businesses are tied to capital spending,” he said.

Farming, which has struggled, may be able to pass along increased prices later this year, he said.

The Greater Akron area is also doing well, Augustine said.

Housing prices have recovered, gross domestic product is up, and the unemployment rate is down, he said.

But while the jobless rate is down, the number of people who are employed has not climbed back to levels in 2007, at the start of the Great Recession, Augustine said.

“That is a trend in our state,” he said.

One solution is to encourage people who have moved elsewhere to come back, Augustine said. Businesses continue to say they have labor quality issues, Augustine said. Managers are spending more of their time on talent management and recruiting, he said.

“The economy is doing good. Labor is what’s in shortage,” he said.

Nick Browning, Huntington’s Akron Region president, briefly addressed the audience and said Northeast Ohio residents should encourage young people who have moved elsewhere to return home. One big attraction is that Akron has a “culture of caring,” he said.

And there will be lots of job openings in upcoming years as baby boomers such as himself retire, he said. The area cannot afford to lose any talent, he said.

“I think Akron is thriving,” Browning said afterward. “It is on the cusp of something I think is really great. … I think we’re seeing the benefit of having new thought leadership in town. The possibilities are out on the table.”

Reporter Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected]. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ

WASHINGTON, D.C.: While the U.S. solar industry work force declined last year, Ohio saw a 12 percent increase in workers.

The Solar Foundation reported Wednesday in its annual National Solar Jobs Census that Ohio employment jumped from 5,831 jobs in 2016 to 6,564 last year.

Nationwide, there were 250,271 Americans working in solar last year, a 3.8 percent decline from the previous year. It’s the first year that jobs have decreased since the Solar Jobs Census was first released in 2010, the group said.

Twenty-nine states saw the number of jobs increase.

California remained the state with the largest number of solar jobs (86,414), but jobs there fell 14 percent in 2017.

“After six years of rapid and steady growth, the solar industry faced headwinds that led to a dip in employment in 2017, including a slowdown in the pace of new solar installations,” Solar Foundation President and Executive Director Andrea Luecke said in a prepared statement.. “Uncertainty over the outcome of the trade case also had a likely impact on solar jobs growth. At the same time, the fact that jobs went up in 29 states is an encouraging sign that solar is taking hold across the country as a low-cost, sustainable, and reliable energy source.”

To read the full report, go to: SolarJobsCensus.org.

A Michigan industrial manufacturing company has purchased and started refurbishing the former Wrayco Industries buildings in Stow, a city official says.

One of the two buildings, a 180,000-square-foot facility at 858 Seasons Road, could be occupied no later than the end of March, said Ken Trenner, Stow economic development coordinator.

The plant apparently will be used for metal fabrication, he said.

“They have great plans for the building,” he said. “They’re in there right now getting the building ready. … We’re thrilled we got another manufacturer. This is great for the city.”

The other former Wrayco building is at 5010 Hudson Drive; Trenner said he was unsure how that 60,000-square-foot site will be used.

Real estate firm CBRE on Tuesday issued a news release announcing the sale of the two buildings but didn’t identify the new owner or tenant. Terms also were not disclosed.

Trenner said the Stow buildings will be occupied by a business affiliated with Royal Arc Industrial Services, a diversified manufacturer out of Michigan.

The Royal Arc website said the company provides Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliant training, engineering, designing and manufacturing and maintaining of overhead cranes, preventative maintenance, annual inspections, hoist rebuilds and overhead lifting devices.

Royal Arc could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Wrayco Industries, which specialized in manufacturing leakproof vessels for heavy construction equipment such as fuel and hydraulic tanks, announced in December 2016 that it was shuttering its facilities in early 2017, with the loss of about 80 jobs. The company was founded in 1980.

Reporter Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected]. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ