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Published: Friday, 5/11/2001

Time to shift to high-tech

Perhaps he was only stating the obvious, but Mayor Finkbeiner could not have been more correct, and more to the point, when he noted in a speech the other day that Toledo has financially extended itself to the limit for the last time in pursuit of manufacturing jobs.

It is time, he said, and he is absolutely right, for Toledo and the region to look in other directions for economic saviors, specifically technology and research.

His comments were telling at a time when Toledoans are pondering the $280 million incentive package given to DaimlerChrysler to build its new Jeep plant in Toledo, $95 million of which was provided by the city in the form of tax relief and abatements.

And what they are wondering is if it was all worth it, a question made more pertinent by the likelihood of a work force at DaimlerChrysler's Toledo operations that is substantially reduced in size from original expectations.

Now it is time for this community to accept what so many other urban areas already have embraced: that high-tech and research and development are where the economic action is. In fact, the first wave, and maybe the second, of that revolution, have already passed us by. It's time to grab the next one.

Jobs will not come in some wildly improbable announcement of a new 4,000-job manufacturing facility. They will come a few hundred or less at a time, and they will come when the decision-makers of high-tech understand that Toledo and northwest Ohio want them here very badly.

They will come when this region finds a way to partner with the only great, world-class university we've got, the University of Michigan, to develop this area's high-tech expertise, perhaps along the U.S. 23 corridor.

And they will come when Gov. Bob Taft (or his successor) realizes that e-commerce startups cost money and that the state must help. As we saw just two weeks ago, the state has shown little inclination to provide seed money and grants for new technology endeavors in our region. When the Ohio Department of Development awarded 16 technology grants statewide, only one went to northwest Ohio.

Obviously Mayor Finkbeiner's comments also prompt a look inward by ourselves. This newspaper was out in front of the Keep Jeep movement, starting with a page one editorial on New Year's Day, 1997, which we described as Day One of the city's Year of Destiny. From that day right up to the following July 28, when the good news came down that Jeep was staying, we reiterated the importance and urgency of getting the deal done.

But Jeep will be the last of these ventures. It may distress some Toledoans employed in manufacturing, but the words of former Gov. Richard Celeste still ring true: they have to “learn to earn, and keep learning to keep earning.” In other words, no more silver platters.

All we are saying now is that the days of such expensive pursuits of manufacturing jobs are over. The jobs are out there, but they are in e-commerce, not assembly lines.



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