Speaking to a crowd of about around 140 members of the Aurora, Twinsburg and Solon chambers of commerce, District 14 Rep. David Joyce talked about jobs, the opioid epidemic and other topics of importance to the area.

While several efforts are under way in the area to connect manufacturing jobs to students, Joyce said more work is needed.

"We’re going to create, if the economy keeps going the way it is, 3.4 million more manufacturing jobs, of which 2 million we’re not going be able to fill," he said at the luncheon, which took place Wednesday at the Bertram Inn and Conference Center in Aurora.

He said a coalition of Lake County manufacturers — Alliance Working Together — worked with high schoolers to develop a robot combat competition, pairing students with engineers.

"Five thousand people show up for the competition," he said, adding the event drew cheers from spectators. "It’s something that gets the crowd going, but, more importantly, it’s something that gets these young kids going."

Although Joyce said he understands opening manufacturing businesses to students on tours is a big commitment, that’s the kind of thing which will spark an interest among students in manufacturing.

"They see people working hand-in-hand, working on computers and working as a team," he said. "When they come out, they have a complete 180 flip from when they went in to the place. That’s the way we’re going to engage these kids and make them realize manufacturing is cool."

Another challenge to the area is the opioid epidemic, which he said is a fight that attracts bipartisan support in Congress.

"The big problem I’ve found going into the communities is that heroin is being replaced by fentanyl," said Joyce. "An amount equal to three grains of salt is enough fentanyl to kill somebody, and carfentanil is 100 times stronger than that."

A bill passed in Congress has authorized spending on scanners the U.S. Postal Service can use to check packages from China, which has begun shipping carfentanil through the mail.

"I’m not going to lie to you: If you’re getting a package from China, it’s been scanned," he said.

Joyce said Congress also has tried to get money to local communities to fight opioid abuse "on the front lines."

Another accomplishment Joyce shared was the Ohio delegation’s success in securing funding for restoration of the Great Lakes.

He said Congress has agreed to spend $300 million on restoration, but he said he and Rep. Marcie Kaptur have proposed a bill increasing that amount to $370 million.

"If we’re going to spend money, let’s make sure we spend some here," he said. "Eleven million people get their drinking water from Lake Erie. Lake Erie provides an economic boon to the area."

In the future, he said clean fresh water will be a "national treasure" in par with gold or oil. In the Southwest, water already is scarce, he added.

Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, bgaetjens@recordpub.com or @bobgaetjens_rpc.