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Published: Saturday, 8/1/2009

Auto task force to study effects of downturn

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

A joint state legislative task force will be in Toledo Monday taking its first testimony on the impact of auto manufacturing on Ohio's economy, and what's happened as the industry goes through its worst sales period in decades.

Six legislators - evenly split between Republicans and Democrats and state representatives and state senators - will take testimony from the public as well as invited officials between 1 and 4 p.m. Monday at the Driscoll Alumni Center auditorium at the University of Toledo.

Half of the task force members are local legislators: Sens. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills) and Stephen Buehrer (R., Delta), and Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Sylvania).

As of yesterday, legislative officials had confirmed several speakers scheduled to provide testimony, including Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and representatives from both the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, a Washington-based industry group, and the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. Representatives from a number of local companies and organizations including auto suppliers, auto manufacturers, and dealers also plan to testify, a spokesman for Mr. Wagoner said.

Automotive manufacturing represents about 16 percent of Ohio's economic activity each year. The dramatic downturn in the industry over the last year has struck Ohio particularly hard. In addition to auto plants that were closed outright or shuttered for months because of slow sales, the state lost dozens of auto dealers and auto suppliers during the current downturn.

Ohio is second in the nation in production of automobiles - behind only neighboring Michigan - and first in the nation in production of automotive parts. According to the Ohio Department of Development, 5.5 percent of Ohio workers depend on the auto industry for their livlihood, either directly or indirectly.

The task force could recommend legislation to increase Ohio's attractiveness to investment from the auto industry as automakers emerge on the other side of bankruptcy, recession, and government ownership.

Monday's meeting in Toledo is the first of five task force hearings across the state scheduled to take place through Sept. 8. Others are Aug. 18 at Lorain County Community College in Lorain, Ohio; Aug. 21 at Kent State University's Trumbull campus in Warren; Aug. 25 at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, and Sept. 8 at North Central State University in Mansfield.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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