The U.S. manufacturing sector is littered with anecdotes from companies worried about a lack of skilled workers to staff increasingly sophisticated operations.
But those companies still on the hunt for more traditional, blue-collar labor face a problem of their own: drug testing.
Executives from two northeastern Ohio companies each told The New York Times that a significant percentage of their job applicants cannot pass drug screenings.
Regina Mitchell, co-owner of Warren Fabricating & Machining in Hubbard, Ohio, said that 40 percent of applicants fail drug tests, with about half testing positive for marijuana and half for opiates or harder drugs.
At Columbiana Boiler in nearby Columbiana, Ohio, chief executive Michael Sherwin said the number is at least 25 percent of applications who fail drugs tests. Sherwin told the paper that his company, which makes galvanized containers and kettles, loses hundreds of thousands of dollars due to labor shortages — with some business going to a competitor in Germany.
In addition to applicants that failed drug tests, the report noted that many more workers were likely deterred from seeking those manufacturing jobs in the first place.
The troubling pattern comes as many states — Ohio included — relax their attitudes and laws about marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes.
Company leaders, however, insisted that the inherent safety risks of their manufacturing operations prevented them from easing their policies regarding marijuana use.
"The lightest product we make is 1,500 pounds, and they go up to 250,000 pounds," Sherwin told the paper. "If something goes wrong, it won’t hurt our workers. It’ll kill them."
Analysts, meanwhile, noted that the problem likely adds to the growing cost of the nation's opiate addiction crisis. The estimated $78.5 billion economic impact in 2013 did not include lost productivity or other business costs, the paper reported.
In addition, experts suggested that drug use could be preventing a significant percentage of the workforce from moving out of lower-wage jobs into positions that pay $15 to $25 per hour with full benefits.
That could particularly help places like Youngstown, which long struggled to cope with the effects of deindustrialization.
“That could have a positive, cascading effect on wages," Princeton University economist Alan Krueger told the Times.