Mayoral candidate Jack Ford pledged yesterday that his administration would pay extra attention to Toledo's small businesses and streamline economic development efforts to help provide incentives for expansion.
Speaking to about 50 people at a luncheon meeting of the East Toledo Club, Mr. Ford said small businesses have been neglected - partly out of necessity - during Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's administration.
“One of the places that's come up short as far as getting incentives and help from government has been small business,” Mr. Ford said. “Now Carty, I think, did what he had to do to keep OC, to keep Jeep, even to kick off the Docks, and he used a lot of money, he used a lot of incentives.”
To make sure smaller businesses aren't left behind, Mr. Ford said he would establish “an economic council that's going to be overweighted to the voices of small business.”
Mr. Ford, a member of the Ohio House of Representatives and its former minority leader, also defended his voting record on business issues.
“One of the things that's leveled against me is I have a terrible pro-business rating in Columbus,” he said. “Well, there's truth to that. But like most things in a political campaign, there's always a kernel of truth that gets expanded beyond reality.”
As leader of the chamber's Democrats, Mr. Ford said he had to fight Republican-sponsored bills that aimed to weaken unions “and swing the pendulum toward business.”
“I've always said that I am pro-labor,” he said. “So when those kinds of votes come up, or something that I think is going to hurt working women and men, I vote against it.”
Ray Kest, Mr. Ford's opponent in the Nov. 6 mayoral election, said his rival's voting record indicates a slant against business.
“He's apparently trying to make himself pro-business, but he has the worst voting record for business issues in the Ohio House of Representatives,” Mr. Kest said. “That's why our local chamber of commerce, the first time they've ever endorsed for mayor, they endorsed me.”
Mr. Ford rejected that reasoning, pointing to his support of city incentives for Owens Corning to build its downtown headquarters on the Middlegrounds. As council president in 1994, Mr. Ford helped win approval for a 20-year, $25 million real-estate tax abatement for OC.
“If I was anti-development, I would not have signed off on the Owens Corning deal,” Mr. Ford said.
The candidates have battled fiercely for the backing of local labor unions.
Mr. Kest won endorsements from Teamsters Local 20, police and firefighters' unions, and most building trades unions. Mr. Ford is endorsed by the United Auto Workers and the Toledo Federation of Teachers.
Mr. Ford said he would work to set up a “one-stop shop” where business owners can seek incentives or other help and get quick answers. Businesses shouldn't have to “jump through hoops” with several different offices, he said.
“Regardless of who the next mayor is, I think what we need to do is ensure at the start of that administration that you literally have a single voice as to how businesses are going to receive incentives,” he said.
Mr. Ford said he would remove employees who won't cooperate with his approach.
“If they can't be on the same page I'm talking about right now, then they're going to have to go ... You ought to be able to go to one person and understand whether or not you've got a deal.”
Mr. Kest said he would combine the city's economic development department with its inspection department and the plan commission.
“That would extremely streamline and break down many of the barriers that our developers and other business people face,” he said.