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Published: Wednesday, 10/10/2012

Behind the Curtain

JobsOhio and Gov. John Kasich lauded Mark Kvamme's achievements after he quit as head of Ohio's quasi-public economic development agency. To Ohioans looking in from the outside, those accomplishments, like the inner workings of the agency, are far from clear.

Mr. Kvamme will step down this month as JobsOhio's president and interim chief investment officer. Governor Kasich hired him in 2011 to privatize Ohio's economic-development efforts.

The former California venture capitalist has not disclosed why he's leaving. That's hardly a surprise, given the cloud that obscures public scrutiny of most of the inner workings of the agency.

In a statement, JobsOhio credited Mr. Kvamme with helping to secure commitments to create 31,000 jobs and $6.1 billion in capital investment. Commitments aren't jobs, and potential investments aren't yet real, but it's a start.

In Toledo at the recent 5 Lakes Global Economic Forum, Mr. Kvamme touted the 123,000 jobs created in Ohio over the past three years. Toledoans appreciate the jobs, many of them in the auto industry, but JobsOhio didn't create most of them.

Keeping jobs carries a high price tag, according to a recent report by the Dayton Daily News. Incentives kept American Greetings in Ohio, but at a cost of more than $53,000 per job.

The state gave Marathon Petroleum of Findlay $78 million in incentives and an exemption from Ohio's commercial activities tax, even though Policy Matters Ohio says it wasn't going anywhere.

Mr. Kvamme might have more specific successes to cite if there was less doubt about JobsOhio's funding and future. Legal challenges have kept it from tapping its proposed funding source: the state's profits from liquor sales.

The lack of transparency that surrounds the job-creation agency remains troubling. While it waits for the liquor money, JobsOhio is funded in part by secret corporate donors. Ohioans have no way of knowing what influence or favors those donations might buy.

When JobsOhio gains control of liquor profits, the money — and how it's spent — will be removed from public view. The agency doesn't have to share how it determines how much of a return on investment is enough. That, it says, is a trade secret. Even Republican lawmakers question the agency's focus on short-term gains.

JobsOhio says Mr. Kvamme will continue to support the agency's work “in a different but equally meaningful way.” Only time can tell whether Mr. Kvamme's legacy is written in stone or quicksand. Even then, Ohioans will know only what JobsOhio tells them. It doesn't have to be that way. Pull back the curtain.



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