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Capital News: Kasich on Ohio's future: Drones, robots and other driverless vehicles

By MARC KOVAC Capital Bureau Chief Published: April 16, 2017 12:00 AM

ETNA, Ohio -- Gov. John Kasich was at Amazon's 800,000-plus-square-foot fulfillment center just outside of Columbus a few days back for a celebration of sorts of the new facility.

If you're driving on Interstate 70 east of Ohio's capital city, just outside the suburbs, you'll notice it on the north side of the road. It's the big building that reaches all the way to the highway, not too far from the exit with the Dairy Queen. (My fellow highway snackers know what I'm talking about.)

Since opening in Etna last year, Amazon has hired some 3,000 full-time employees for the location, adding to a total work force in Ohio of more than 6,000.

The company has been in the governor's spotlight regularly since it picked Ohio for the facilities. And with good reason: Amazon is hiring Ohioans in the types of positions, the governor told reporters who tagged along with him on a tour of the automated warehouse area, that the state will increasingly see in the future.

"You notice here," Kasich said, gesturing to a fenced-off area as robots resembling towering yellow shelves zoomed by. "There's nobody driving. This is all autonomous."

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In the past, people, some in forklifts, might have gone from shelf to shelf to collect things that people ordered online. Now, the robots are constantly on the move, stopping at stations where employees add customers' orders to tubs to be prepared for shipment.

"Since you don't have a person in there anymore, what's that's person in there going to do?" Kasich asked about the aforementioned forklift operator. "How are we going to train them for the fact that they're not going to drive these things around?.. As these jobs go away, what jobs are going to come up? And how do we get people ready for these jobs?"

The stop provided a little more context for what's on the governor's mind lately, with an increasing focus on drones, cloud computing, autonomous vehicles, robotics and other emerging technologies that are going to reshape Ohio's work force in years to come.

"We need to be thinking about this early," Kasich said.

If you haven't heard him say this sort of thing, you will. This is a continuing theme for Kasich, as he pushes the legislature to sign off on his executive budget proposal, which includes provisions that would increase interaction between schools and private industry.

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That includes adding two business people (in nonvoting roles) to local school boards and requiring teachers to complete "externships" at businesses as part of their licensing requirements.

Primary and secondary schools and colleges and universities, the governor will tell you, need to be more in tune with the needs of employers. Job-training programs need to be increasingly focused on preparing existing workers to handle new careers.

"The No. 1 occupation in America is driving," Kasich said during his Amazon stop. "Within 10 years and probably less, people aren't going to be driving. We will have autonomous vehicles. There will be no steering wheel, there will be no pedals. Everything will be computerized."

He added, "If we're not ready to train our young people and the people who need to be retrained and the people who don't have the degrees at all today, who don't even have a high school diploma, if we're not prepared to give them the skills that they need to have these jobs, you think we're disrupted and divided in America today? You haven't seen anything, because there will be massive numbers of people who will be out of work."

 

Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at mkovac@recordpub.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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