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Published: Saturday, 2/27/2010

Charting the future

TWO new studies offer different visions of how Ohio can emerge from the current recession in a position to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the global economy of the 21st century. While one vision largely reiterates arguments made before about the size and cost of state government, the other emphasizes policies aimed at rebuilding metropolitan areas, including Toledo. Both encourage useful dialogue.

The first report is issued by the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a Columbus-based nonpartisan group that says it is committed to individual liberty, economic freedom, and limited government. Its prescription for economic recovery includes making Ohio a right-to-work state, reducing taxes, and shrinking government.

The other study comes from the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program and the Greater Ohio Policy Center, nonpartisan groups that are interested in promoting the health and prosperity of cities and metropolitan areas. They, naturally, see investment in Ohio's metropolitan areas as the best way to prepare for the economy of the future.

What is exciting about the Brookings report is the degree to which Ohio, and the Toledo metropolitan area in particular, already are at the forefront of the economy of the future, which it said will be export-oriented, fueled by lower-carbon energy sources, and led by innovation.

Northwest Ohio is quickly becoming an international center for the development of alternative energy technology and green jobs. Ohio, through the Third Frontier program, has invested millions of dollars in high-tech ventures. The report confirms that the region and state are headed in the right direction.

The report also encourages the development of intermodal capabilities, a development initiative well-suited to the Toledo area that has been gaining traction. And it calls for greater cooperation among governments to improve efficiency and reduce costs, a plea heard often in this area, most recently in Toledo Mayor Mike Bell's State of the City address.

A related and more controversial recommendation suggests reducing Ohio's 613 school districts by about a third so that more money can be spent on instruction. Reducing administrative costs and saving money through shared services are worthy goals. But high-performing districts, parents, and voters all are likely to oppose this idea.

As its executive summary observes, the Brookings/Greater Ohio report is not a final agenda but a beginning. Specifically, it's the beginning of a conversation that Ohio must embrace if it hopes to draw on existing strengths and develop new capabilities to create a future as prosperous as its past.

That's a good conversation to have.



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