Electric vehicle manufacturing, a new industry for Ohio, employs hundreds of workers in Tuscarawas County
Ray Tharp thought he would be enjoying his retirement after owning a fabrication and hydraulics business since 1984. Instead, he just celebrated his one-year work anniversary at Battle Motors, a manufacturing company in New Philadelphia that makes electric garbage trucks.
“Basically, our whole family depends on this place to live,” Tharp said. “They’re good jobs. It’s not like you’re down here trying to fight for overtime and everything else. You can make a decent living 40 hours a week.”
What was formerly Crane Carrier Company, Battle Motors has created 434 new jobs in its expansion to produce electric heavy-duty trucks since it was purchased by California business owner Michael Patterson in 2021. It’s expected to generate $18 million in new annual payroll and retain $13.7 million in existing payroll.
“The city, the mayor, the county, they’re super pro-business, [which is] very, very helpful,” Patterson said, “everything from trying to expedite power that we needed to the building [to] helping us with ways to recruit employees.”
Tharp, a New Philadelphia resident and director of fabrication and prototyping at Battle Motors, hired his son Cody as a fabricator a few months after he started. His other son, Kyle, works as a graphic designer at Battle Motors.
Manufacturing jobs for residents
With a population of more than 17,000, the city of New Philadelphia employs the largest workforce in Tuscarawas County at more than 10,000 employees. Manufacturing is the leading industry, according to a report by the economic development group Team Northeast Ohio (NEO).
Twenty-three percent of workers in Tuscarawas County are in the manufacturing industry as compared to 17% of workers in the state, according to the Ohio Economic Profile from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Health care and social assistance is the second largest industry in Tuscarawas County at 15% and retail is third at 11%. Cleveland Clinic Union Hospital, ProVia and now Battle Motors are major employers for county residents.
Tuscarawas County has lost 818 jobs since 2017, but Team NEO projects an increase of 1,200 jobs by 2026. Ohio has gained 11,000 manufacturing jobs since 2022.
Tharp said that throughout Tuscarawas County and specifically New Philadelphia, a rich history of coal mining, steel mills and manufacturing flourished until the 1970s, when the region acclimated to a more service-style economy, such as fast food restaurants, which paid employees less. Some large manufacturing companies closed or left the area, like Joy Manufacturing, which closed its doors in 1997.
“Back in the 80s, you could walk away from one job and onto another one just in the same day,” Tharp said. “There was just stuff going on everywhere. And then — mid 80s, late 90s — things started to slow down and all these big companies were eaten up by little companies.”
Today there are about 125 manufacturing companies in Tuscarawas County, said John Kelly, the director of business development at the Tuscarawas County Economic Development Corporation.
“A lot of our companies have aggressive growth plans in the next five years,” Kelly said. “And the catch is the people. Where do they get the workers?”
A major employer
It’s less expensive to have an office in Ohio than Southern California, Patterson said. And New Philadelphia is a prime location to build an electric vehicle company, because it is close to larger cities like Cleveland and Columbus, which are rich sources of skilled labor. Local residents, like Tharp and his sons, also have been hired.
“Battle Motors has been such a gift to this community because of what it's brought up, jobs, innovation, which has given us a kind of technology momentum, which I believe that our other manufacturers are playing off of that,” said New Philadelphia Mayor Joel Day.
So far, the company has hired 407 new employees and has expanded the property from 135,000 square-feet to 325,000 square-feet. Patterson said he plans to build 2,500 trucks this year.
“The expansion was to have more room to put in two much longer production lines, one dedicated to diesel manufacturing because our diesel businesses grow significantly,” he said. “The other [is] fully dedicated to building electric vehicles. And so, we needed more space, of course, for more inventory, and for all the new workers.”
New industry for Ohio
Ohio lags behind other states like California and Nevada in the electric vehicle industry, but Team NEO sees the Battle Motors expansion as a long-term investment for the state. Right now, companies such as Ford Motor Company and General Motors are building electric passenger cars and trucks.
“What Battle does is add a cachet to our area in terms of medium and heavy-duty trucks,” said Mindy McLaughlin, the managing director of global business development at Team NEO. “So, because they're in this different space, the actual impact of that investment means that there'll be a different kind of supply chain that we're going to be able to attract.”
Ohio is a good location for the national chain because of where the state sits geographically. “We're in the center of the automotive space,” said Jonathan Bridges, the managing director of automotive at JobsOhio. “So, companies will set up an operation here and be able to supply to multiple other customers, right? So, we're part of the supply chain, supply chain solution.”
Battle Motors has also impacted the local supply chain.
The New Philadelphia company JWC Drivetrain Specialists has had a 10% increase in drive shaft sales since Battle Motors opened. A drive shaft is a component for transmitting mechanical power and rotating an axle, which are usually used to connect other components. JWC supplied parts to Battle Motors during the pandemic when other companies had delays.
“We've been able to fill in that gap for them by being so close to them, and [we] have it all,” said Mike Cookson, the owner of JWC Drivetrain Specialists. “We keep an extensive inventory of the parts we would need.”
Cookson said they regularly make drive shafts for Battle Motors' engineering department. While they haven't hired new employees yet for the increase in business, they soon will be in need of another worker in that department.
Ethan Henderson, chief program engineer at Battle Motors, said that while challenging to get parts sometimes, they have the resources and staff for production.
Finding skilled workers
Mayor Day said the county's labor market would improve if there were more jobs available generally, especially because manufacturing companies are seeking employees with specialized skills. In fact, Henderson moved to Ohio from North Carolina to work at Battle Motors.
Kent State University at Tuscarawas and Buckeye Career Center have partnered with other counties, including Stark, Harrison and Carroll, to lead the Advanced Manufacturing Corridor initiative to develop curriculum for students at Buckeye, KSU Tuscarawas and local high schools to learn needed skills.
“So, when they graduate, they can walk right into these manufacturing jobs with the skills necessary for the manufacturers,” Day said.
Patterson said they’re actively hiring graduating high school seniors for production, paint and warehouse inventory positions and workers with a bachelor’s degree in engineering for mechanical and electrical engineering positions.
Frank Polen, the director of curriculum of instruction for adult education at Buckeye Career Center, said students have the opportunity to work on site. And Buckeye also offers a summer manufacturing camp for middle schoolers.
“They're (Battle Motors) actively involved in our programs, advisory councils [and] our students have done tours,” Polen said. “We also are doing some partnerships and looking at building some post-secondary trainings for them.”
Team NEO’s report indicates that Tuscarawas County’s population, which is 92,500 people, declined by 102 between 2016 and 2021 and is projected to drop by 393 from 2021 to 2026. Stark County has gained the majority of those residents.
Patterson said that Battle Motors plans to increase staff in each department by 2024 to build 5,000 additional trucks, leaning on the labor force in the county and larger cities outside of Tuscarawas County.