CUYAHOGA FALLS — Although economic indicators look positive for 2018, Akron-area employers are facing a challenge of attracting more employees — particularly Millennials — to the region.

That perspective was offered by John Augustine, chief investment officer for Huntington Private Bank, during a presentation delivering an economic forecast for this year at the Sheraton Suites in Cuyahoga Falls Tuesday morning. He spoke to an audience of 250 people, which included Huntington employees as well as the bank’s clients, municipal finance officials and other community members. The event was hosted by Huntington.

In the Akron area, home prices are "doing fine," the gross domestic product is rising, and the unemployment rate is 4.8 percent, which is slightly lower than the state average of 5.1 percent, said Augustine.

He noted that the overall number of employees in the Akron area has declined in the past two to three years, and has not returned to the level of 2007, which was the highest amount in the past two decades.

Augustine said that the number of employees in Akron, along with other "second-tier cities" such as Canton, Youngstown, Dayton and Toledo are not at the level they were before the Great Recession of late 2007 through mid-2009.

Among the state's major cities, only Columbus and Cincinnati have seen increases in the number of employees since the Great Recession, he said. Those two cities each have more employees than Cleveland, according to Augustine.

The key for the area's economic future, he said, is persuading young people to plant their roots here.

"We need more people [in the Akron area]," said Augustine. "We need those college kids from the 20-some universities we have in our region to stay here."

He noted the Akron area offers positive attributes such as rising wages, a "low" cost of living and a "huge" quality of life.

Augustine said Akron and other mid-sized cities are facing the challenge of bringing more employees to their municipalities.

"No alarm bells. We're not moving down, just moving sideways," said Augustine.

Augustine cited a 2017 National Federation of Independent Businesses survey showing that employers' second biggest problem after taxes was labor quality. He noted many business owners and managers are spending a lot of time on talent management and recruitment.

"It's probably taking 20 to 25 percent of our time where we’re out actively looking for workers," said Augustine.

At the conclusion of Augustine’s presentation, Huntington Bank Regional President Nick Browning said his daughter worked in Cincinnati for a year and then spent two years working in Europe. After that, she returned home and "fell in love with the Akron area," said Browning.

Browning told the audience that they need to encourage young people "to come back home; to let them know there are great job opportunities."

As one of the youngest Baby Boomers, Browning said once his generation has completely retired, there will be many opportunities for young people.

After his talk, Augustine note Millennials are "particularly attuned" to "quality of life, flexible work schedules and sociability." He added employers face a challenge of adjusting to Millennials' workplace expectations and cited Amazon, Facebook and Google as examples of companies that have a "much different work environment."

"We have to think as employers, how can I be flexible and more welcoming to that group?" said Augustine. 

Review of recent stock market activity

Augustine also commented on the large fluctuations that occurred with the stock market during the past seven days.

"The stock market’s going through an adjustment period," noted Augustine. "And what's most interesting … [is] it’s coming from a position of strength."

The "adjustment period" occurred at a more accelerated pace than previous ones, said Augustine.

"We had a 10 percent decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average last week starting the previous Friday," he said. "It's the fastest we've ever gotten a 10 percent decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in the past 80 years."

This happened due to trading that occurred through the use of the Vix Index, which Augustine said attempts to "measure the cost of options."

"People got hurt around these," said Augustine "They may not have even known they were invested in these Vix Indexes." He noted that this is an issue that regulators will be examining.

Augustine said the economy had 3-plus percent growth in two quarters last year, and added that consumer and business CEO optimism indexes were higher than they had been in more than a decade.

He also noted that a "conduit of money" will be coming off corporate balance sheets and into the economy. The focus will then be on what is done with those funds. As a result, Augustine said he believes 2018 for business leaders "is about turning optimism into action."

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.