By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
Northwest Ohio leaders provided testimony Thursday to a state committee about the region’s strengths in the area of economic development, and how the state could encourage more development.
The Regional Economic Development Alliance Study Committee, chaired by state Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, and state Rep. Steve Hambley, R-Brunswick, met at the Hancock Hotel. Five men testified.
The advantages of northwest Ohio stem from its location, said Monske, the president and CEO of Regional Growth Partnership, which is the JobsOhio partner for this part of the state.
“Every mode of transportation is here,” and Toledo is centrally located to much of the North American population.
Still, the region doesn’t have any of the three Cs — Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.
“I love those cities,” Monske stressed, and added that resources to those areas shouldn’t be cut.
But northwest Ohio needs more resources, he said. Aside from Marathon Petroleum, the area doesn’t have corporate money in the same way those three cities do. Nor are there as many foundations or big developers.
What the committee should consider is “finding ways to help the regions that really need it the most,” Monske said. “I am not suggesting that you cut resources and cut incentives or cut help to the three Cs.”
Owens Community College’s connections with four-year institutions and with high school career technical programs are important, the school’s president said.
The College Credit Plus program is helping with college affordability, as do credit transfer programs with four-year colleges. The CCP program could be improved if it covered career technical education, Robinson said.
In the meantime, Owens is partnering with Raise the Bar and local manufacturers on a Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program, in which participants will work and earn an associate degree at the same time. (Story in today’s Progress edition).
There’s a stigma associated with community colleges and technical careers, Robinson said.
“If there was one magic wand that I could wave in the state to move the needle on the things that this committee cares about, it would be to change the hearts and minds of families as it relates to technical careers and community college education,” he said.
“I’m done having people say nice things about community colleges and then turning around and not living that out,” Robinson added.
He encouraged committee members who attended community colleges to share that information.
Companies and banks aren’t locally owned as commonly as they were 30 years ago, Ohio Logistics President and CEO Chuck Bills told the committee.
That makes it harder for him to get financing for spec buildings — even though companies come when buildings are available, he said.
Funding for projects shouldn’t just be about the number of new jobs created, Bills said. If an investment keeps existing jobs in an area, or cuts transportation costs, that matters too.
Bills called for more investment in housing. “For us to bring new companies into town, or to create jobs, you’re also going to have to help us bring housing to our towns.”
He also said the state should encourage more partnership between businesses and education, such as Bowling Green State University’s supply chain management program.
One Energy is the largest installer of on-site wind energy in the United States, the company’s CEO told the committee. And like Marathon, the country’s biggest refiner, it’s located in Findlay.
When asked by McColley what the state can do better to bring in the next generation of entrepreneurs, Kent, who is 34, pointed to what Findlay did for him.
Tony Iriti, former Findlay-Hancock County Economic Development director, and Tim Mayle, who now holds that job, welcomed Kent to the city and asked how they could help.
He wasn’t sure what economic development was, but he went to a meeting where Iriti introduced him the same way he introduced executives from Marathon and Cooper Tire.
Other major players in the city reached out, too, and made key introductions, and that’s something the state can encourage more of.
Ohio can also help people understand relevant laws.
There’s no one source in state government that a would-be entrepreneur can call to get answers about whether their business plan complies with the laws, Kent said. That’s especially true for One Energy as it deals with laws that were written without wind energy in mind.
Findlay’s safety director praised local collaboration efforts, such as the combined city-county health department and an annexation policy that allows Findlay to annex property and provide services without townships losing all of the revenue from new businesses.
Government should be a “facilitator,” he said. “We should get out of the way to the greatest extent possible and create what we have always said is an environment that’s conducive to investment.”
He cited as an example the expansion of the Community Reinvestment Area from a downtown area into a city-wide “real estate tax abatement tool” to encourage investment in the community.