Ohio has many assets that are critical to the automotive industry

Ohio is actively investing in the automotive industry, both in the traditional automotive supply chain and in the connected and autonomous vehicle space. The state continues to show its value to the industry as a place for new investment. It has unique assets for testing, a government that’s friendly toward the smart mobility sector, a large and capable workforce, low overhead costs and an advantageous proximity to suppliers.

Smart Business spoke with Kristi Tanner, senior managing director at JobsOhio, about the state of and outlook for Ohio’s automotive industry.

How would you characterize the state of Ohio’s automotive industry at the moment?

Ohio’s automotive industry is very active, especially in the automotive supply chain and in R&D. A number of recent announcements have bolstered the industry, including some international investment. Japan’s Topre Corp. expanded in the Ohio market one year ago and is expanding again, and Canada-based Hematite recently opened its first U.S. manufacturing operation in the Dayton region.

What can Ohio offer automotive companies?

Ohio gives automotive companies a strategic position to reach customers and suppliers within a single-day’s truck drive. The state offers low-cost operations, and a large, capable automotive workforce. There’s also a growing segment of the industry that comprises up-and-coming companies that are focused on smart mobility and connected and autonomous vehicles. Those companies are doing their R&D and testing in Ohio because the state has a mix of resources that is unparalleled in the U.S.

How is Ohio positioned to support automotive innovations?

Ohio is a living lab for both controlled and open-road testing and has resources and partners to help companies complete that testing. The Transportation Research Center in East Liberty is the largest automotive proving ground in the U.S. Its 4,500-acre campus has testing facilities that more than 800 customers can use 24/7.

The TRC broke ground on its Smart Mobility Advanced Research and Test Center — 540 acres within the existing property that will include custom facilities for R&D and testing for smart mobility. It includes a real-world environment with an urban area cityscape that features many potential roadway conditions. Currently there is no other facility that large and built out that is housed within an existing proving ground that’s open for all companies to use.

Right outside TRC’s gate is a 35-mile stretch of four-lane divided highway, the Route 33 Smart Mobility Corridor. It’s designated for open-road testing and was supported by an investment from Ohio and the federal government. It boasts a fiber optic network and dedicated short-range communications units that stretch the length of the highway and enable testing of connected vehicle technology. That corridor dumps into Dublin and Columbus, the latter of which was designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation as the first and only winner of the Smart City Challenge. That earned the city $40 million from the U.S. DOT. Columbus parlayed that into $510 million from other sources, which it will use to turn itself into a leader in smart city technologies.

How are Ohio and its partners working to address the challenges automotive companies in the state face?

One of the most significant challenges companies across the country face is a shortage of manufacturing workers. In Ohio, stakeholders are working to address that issue. For instance, JobsOhio’s talent acquisition program works with companies to recruit and train workers. These are in-demand skills that are required for up-and-coming connected and autonomous vehicle manufacturing and testing. Fortunately for Ohio, the state produces more than 12,000 engineering and engineering technician graduates each year, many of whom have the needed skills to be successful in the smart mobility space. The state is also open to new technology. Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order in May to authorize autonomous vehicle testing in Ohio and to lay out a road map for how the industry can test their technologies in the state. That will go a long way to support continued testing of autonomous vehicles in the state.

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