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Published: Thursday, 8/27/2009

Wilkowski says economic plan adds education

BY TOM TROY
AND IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Democratic mayoral candidate Keith Wilkowski yesterday laid out what he said was a plan for economic development that would help with worker training and boost the level of college education.

"We're going to get Toledoans ready to go to work in the new energy economy," Mr. Wilkowski said.

He also critiqued what he said was an "ad hoc" approach to economic development in the current administration, and drew fire from a rival candidate over his proposals for boosting college graduation rates.

The candidate's "Job-Ready Toledo" would include:

•A "Mayor's Science & Technology Cabinet" to study the needs in the labor force.

•A program to raise private funds to help local high school graduates pay for college at the University of Toledo and Owens Community College beyond what those two colleges already provide.

He said he would strengthen job training programs, but without duplicating what is already provided by The Source, Lucas County's employment program.

And he proposed a "re-enrollment initiative" for adults wanting to return to college. It would assist adult workers in recovering transcripts, navigating financial assistance, and planning their courses of study.

Konop Konop
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Mr. Wilkowski noted that he proposed a "Toledo Promise" scholarship program more than a year ago and since then, the University of Toledo and Owens Community College have offered scholarships to city high school graduates who meet income guidelines.

He said his program would tap private philanthropic and business sources to help those who don't meet the income guidelines but still have trouble paying for college. He didn't estimate the cost.

Rival candidate Ben Konop, also a Democrat, said the Wilkowski proposal falls short of his idea of establishing a $70 million college scholarship program to be paid for by savings from privatizing Lucas County emergency medical services. Mr. Wilkowski said he does not support using tax dollars devoted to medical services for a college scholarship program.

Mr. Konop said he's investigated and concluded there isn't enough nonprofit and philanthropic money to meet the need.

"The money is not here for it," Mr. Konop said. "That's why I proposed the funding source I did. It's been a dead end for several years and we can't wait any longer."

He labeled Mr. Wilkowski's proposal "empty," in contrast to what he said was his own concrete proposal with a funding source.

Mr. Wilkowski also said he would have a written plan for economic development, which he said is lacking at present.

He said he supports some of Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's programs, such as the intermodal hub, but said, "We flip from one thing to another and not concentrate on our core wealth-producing industries - manufacturing, construction, transportation.

"There are some good things being done, but it's not being done in the most effective way possible because it's so ad hoc," he said. He said the current focus is too frequently on the "end result of economic development" - retail-commercial, rather than the "core wealth producing industries."

A group called Chicanos For Konop - a coalition of Mexican-American Toledoans - endorsed mayoral candidate Ben Konop yesterday.

Virginia Ortega, a member of the group and longtime civil rights activist, said Mr. Konop is one of the few local leaders who understands the diverse Latino community in Toledo.

"You are one of the few politicians whose words match your actions," Ms. Ortega said.

The Chicanos For Konop event, held at Tex-Mex Tortilleria on Broadway, attracted about a dozen people.

"I have staked my political career on promoting diversity and fighting for working families," Mr. Konop said. "To have a large group of citizens not only agree with me, but take up my cause on my behalf means the world to me."

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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