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Ohio Business Leaders Keep Tabs On Proposed Immigration Bill

A U.S. Senate immigration bill could be introduced later this week. The proposal is expected to allow a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants while also mandating that employers check legal status of their employees. Some Ohio business leaders are among those keeping close tabs on a potential immigration overhaul. The debate over immigration and its effects on the U.S. job market occurs against the backdrop of a struggling job recovery and concerns expressed by some business leaders of a skills mismatch. The Timken Company is a global steel manufacturer headquartered in Canton. Chairman, Tim Timken, sees shortages of skilled workers in the near future. And he says new immigration legislation could help. "I think immigration is a critical part of this overall puzzle. Because the fact of the matter is we've got an aging workforce in the state of Ohio. We've got growth from an economic point of view so you create this gap, and in northeast Ohio the numbers we find are about 200,000, so you multiply that by the state and it's a significant number." Says Timken. Whatever the statewide number, Timken says worker shortages in Ohio are a problem for manufacturers and other sectors of the state's economy. "One way to fill that is to make sure is that we not only keep our young people here in the state, but also we attract new people to the state and a big part of that is through legal immigration." Timken says. Since 2010, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says Ohio has added 141-thousand jobs. Part of that job growth results from oil and natural gas drilling in eastern Ohio counties. Chesapeake Energy Corporation Vice President Scott Rotruck says worker training programs are more important to his industry than immigration reform. But, he says the oil and gas industry is in constant need of trained petrochemical and design engineers. And he welcomes immigrant students that have such advanced college degrees. "What you want to do, you like to think about keeping your own students in Ohio. What's really better is if you keep somebody else's. They come here to school, they find a place, and they stay." Says Rotruck. But, labor force considerations remain a possible hitch in the eventual approval of an immigration bill, Acting Secretary of Labor, Seth Harris said as much during a recent visit to Columbus. "There is a risk that a split in the business community or a split between the business community and the labor movement could get in the way." Says Harris. Among the provisions in the bill reported by The Associated Press is a new guest worker program for farm laborers. There's also been discussion among senate negotiators to allow thousands of restaurant, hospitality and health care workers to enter the country legally by 2020. Republican U-S Senator from Ohio, Rob Portman, says the senate has momentum to pass immigration reform and realities at the workplace are helping. "Well, labor force considerations are helping the bill right now because, as you know, the labor unions, the chamber of commerce have worked out an agreement on these temporary worker programs. There'll be limits and there'll be the necessity for advertising to be sure there are no American workers who would otherwise take the job." Says Portman. If the full senate passes a comprehensive immigration reform bill, the measure would then move on to the U.S. House of Representatives.