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Published: Thursday, 1/13/2011

Kasich lobbies Chrysler, GM for new manufacturing jobs

DETROIT -- Led by new Gov. John Kasich, a delegation of top Ohio officials met Wednesday with auto industry executives at the previews of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Their message was that the Buckeye state "is open for business" if the automakers are looking to expand.

Mr. Kasich, on his second full day in office, met privately with executives from General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC, which have factories in northwest Ohio. The governor's entourage included his new development director, Mark Kvamme; University of Toledo President Lloyd Jacobs, and Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee.

"Ohio's open for business. If you've had problems, it's a new day and a new way of doing things in Ohio," Governor Kasich said, when asked what he told the automakers. "Whether it is our governmental regulatory policy, our tax policy, our job training programs, problems that companies have with energy: We want to know early on exactly what we can do to be helpful, and we want to move.

"We don't want to be bureaucrats talking about things and getting nothing done."

Gov. Kasich tries out the passenger seat of the Chevy Cruze. Gov. Kasich tries out the passenger seat of the Chevy Cruze.
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The meeting with Chrysler occurred a day after Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne told The Blade that Toledo could expect in the next six months an announcement concerning the expansion of Chrysler's Toledo Assembly operations. Mr. Kasich met with Michael Manley, president and chief executive officer of the Jeep brand, and Mauro Pino, the plant manager at Chrysler's Toledo Assembly complex.

It was unknown whether Mr. Marchionne met with the governor.

Chrysler has not said what additional vehicles it plans for its two assembly plants in Toledo, beyond the iconic Wrangler and a new Liberty due to arrive by 2013. The company builds Jeep Wranglers in one set of factories on two shifts and makes the Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro in a neighboring factory on one shift. Mr. Marchionne said Tuesday that a Jeep-branded "work truck" had a better than 50 percent chance of being built alongside the Wrangler.

Gov. Kasich speaks to reporters while touring the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Gov. Kasich speaks to reporters while touring the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
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Mr. Kasich said the meetings with auto executives were the latest outreach that Ohio's new governor has made to "an industry that is important to all Ohioans." He would not provide specifics of what the auto companies have asked of state government.

"We met to air the concerns that they have and to tell them that we want to be full partners with them. I mean, it has been difficult for companies to do business in Ohio, and so, without getting into the details, we've asked them for a list of things that have made it difficult," he said.

"I think the situation is that you have to have an environment where the companies say, 'Ohio gets it.' The purpose of this meeting is to communicate a message that we get it; that we're business savvy, that we understand that jobs are the key."

He added: "I was inaugurated two days ago, and when I'm up here, it impresses them. We should have an inauguration every week so I can show up a couple days after it."

On the show floor, the governor climbed into several vehicles, including the Chevy Cruze that is built in Lordstown, Ohio. He also took a few moments to explore the exhibit presented by Venturi Vehicles, a niche electric vehicle company in Monaco that worked with engineers at OSU to design a high-speed electric racer and a high-voltage buggy concept called the Venturi America.

Mr. Jacobs said he accompanied the governor's mission to Detroit to promote UT's current work with Detroit's auto manufacturers and explore new avenues where the university can be helpful, including ongoing research being done in supply-chain management and environmentally friendly liquid fuels, that can help bring jobs to northwest Ohio.

"I am very excited about John Kasich's understanding of the relationship between higher education and the economy," Mr. Jacobs said. "That ... has been one of my pet peeves for a number of years, and we believe that universities like the University of Toledo, and the University of Toledo specifically, are absolutely essential to the renaissance of the economy."

Mr. Kasich said his message to automakers is simply that Ohio can help them succeed.

"We have trained workers, we have smart people, we have great universities with technology that allows us to help [automakers] with research," he said. "We're going to have a regulatory environment that will be more positive, we believe. We have good location. But it's people, primarily."

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@theblade.com or 419-724-6091



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