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OPEN DISCUSSION — Jefferson County Democratic Party Chair Robbie Martin, standing, introduced U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, to a group of local business owners and others during a campaign stop Wednesday at Abdalla’s Tavern and Grill. Frankie DiCarlantonio is at Ryan’s left. Ryan is seeking the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Rob Portman, who is retiring. — Warren Scott

STRATTON — U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, sought input from business owners during a campaign stop Wednesday at Abdalla’s Tavern and Grill.

Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance of Cincinnati will vie in the Nov. 8 general election for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Rob Portman, who is retiring.

During his visit, Ryan said he sees many opportunities for economic growth through billions in federal funding allocated for infrastructure and the burgeoning natural gas industry.

“I think it’s great for the climate, great for jobs,” said Ryan, who noted the development of cracker plants is expected to result in many support businesses.

But he added Ohio also can benefit from other energy sources, noting his support of the opening of a Lordstown Motors manufacturing facility for electric vehicles.

Ryan said he’s also secured millions of dollars for business incubators, facilities in Youngstown, Warren and Akron where new businesses can employ 3-D printing and other new technology.

Ryan said such businesses typically relocate within five miles of the incubator where they got their start and often into unused former industrial facilities.

He encouraged local public officials to pursue federal dollars now available for infrastructure, including the replacement of aging water lines and those that present health risks because of the lead they contain, as well as the expansion of high-speed Internet service to unserved areas.

“Broadband needs to be seen as a utility these days. If you don’t have it, you’re not going to grow. You can’t compete,” said Ryan.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a large infrastructure bill, so that’s why this is a key piece of the puzzle,” he said.

Ryan said local companies also can apply to federal grant programs that have enabled the development of a music hall, amphitheater and river walk in Warren.

“It’s got to be jobs, but it’s got to be the quality of life, too. We’ve got to keep the young people,” he said.

On Wednesday, Ryan heard from business owners who said they are dealing with a shortage of workers. Some said the high cost of materials and utilities needed to do business prevents them from offering higher wages that would help to attract and retain employees.

Ryan heard from an employer who wanted to help an employee struggling with addiction and found limited treatment options were available.

Robbie Martin, chairman of the Jefferson County Democratic Party, said there’s a strong need for daycare facilities locally but the process to become licensed is lengthy and complex.

Ryan said there may be a need to modernize state agencies behind business licenses to expedite the permitting process.

Following his talk, Ryan said he believes the gig economy, which includes such jobs as Uber drivers, could be partly responsible for the worker shortage. But he said a major factor is the lack of daycare for mothers who must stay home to look after young children.

Ryan added a trend of directing a majority of high school graduates to four-year colleges has resulted in a dearth of individuals in skilled trades professions, which offer competitive wages.

He said in an effort to counter that, he introduced the 21st Century Shop Class Act to make funding available to expose students to 3-D printing and other new technology before they graduate.

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