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When you buy something online, chances are you'd like it to arrive as soon as possible, preferably with free shipping. That pressure to get products to consumers fast has sparked a warehousing boom. More companies appear to be moving their distribution centers to the Midwest to be closer to customers. And for some cities in southwest Ohio, that could mean thousands of new jobs. Jess Mador of member station WYSO sent this report.
JESS MADOR, BYLINE: One of southwest Ohio's newest and biggest retail hubs sits near the Dayton International Airport. The massive mile-long facility belongs to Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble. On the warehouse floor, the air is thick with the sound of honking horns as a thousand workers wearing protective glasses and high-visibility vests zoom around on motorized machines in every direction for as far as the eye can see. Jeff LeRoy is with Procter & Gamble and says the entire facility is digital.
JEFF LEROY: As the shipments come in from the manufacturing sites around the country, we know where that is by automation. And it allows us to get the product to the shopper on the shelf in a lot of times less than 48 hours.
MADOR: Today, about a dozen new hires are in training. They're learning to operate computerized lift trucks designed to move heavy loads from one of the facility's 83,000 shelves. They practice maneuvering in circles through an obstacle course of orange traffic cones. These P&G workers start at around $15 an hour, more than $5 more than the area's lowest-skilled warehouse jobs. Ohio's within a day's drive of more than half the country's population. And as more distribution centers locate here, state officials say competition for workers is stiffening. LeRoy says people who can do the jobs robots still can't are in highest demand.
LEROY: And so where we go in the next 12 to 18 months using automation for stocking shelves or the robots or automatic vehicles, I mean, it's no longer going to be people just picking up boxes to put them on shelves like they might have done 50 years ago. It's really going forward to the future with innovative high-tech jobs where people need different skills than they would have needed even, say, 10 years ago.
MADOR: Advanced mechanical skills, computer programming training and data analytics - skills that help workers coordinate with robots, drones and other technology coming to the warehouses of the future. Mark Cohen runs the Columbia Business School's Retail Studies Program. He says, nationally, there's a big competition for workers with the right skill set.
MARK COHEN: Communities that win have to support the development of skills.
MADOR: Cohen says companies across the country's supply chain are facing a significant workforce gap.
COHEN: This is a particular issue in communities that have relied on heavy manufacturing and now are, some cases, struggling in an enormously consequential way.
MADOR: In many parts of Ohio, unemployment still hovers above the national average. To grow high-tech jobs, Governor John Kasich has pushed to better align workforce training programs to the skills employers say workers now need. For Malcolm Byrd, that meant adding a logistics industry certificate and new computer skills to his resume. The Dayton 27-year-old says the training opened the door to a better job and bumped up his starting pay from $12 an hour to at least 15.
MALCOLM BYRD: I was able to go to the next level, graduating from the retail end to corporate sales. So I was able to do that with this job development program.
MADOR: Dayton economic development officials would like to see more unskilled entry-level and dislocated manufacturing workers make this kind of transition. For NPR News, I'm Jess Mador in Dayton.
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