Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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Residents set to sell area to Taft

The governor is coming to town this week to hear how his technology plan can grow a new generation of good-paying jobs in northwest Ohio - and Lynn Child is ready with an answer.

“He doesn't only have to look at the big cities,” she said. “There's a lot of wonderful, entrepreneurial things happening in smaller places as well.”

Ms. Child runs two Findlay information-technology companies - Aardvark, Inc., and CentraComm, Inc. - and she'll be one of a dozen panelists speaking to Gov. Bob Taft about his Third Frontier plan Wednesday at Toledo Hospital.

Toledo will be the governor's third stop in his travels across the state to stump his $1.6 billion Third Frontier plan while getting feedback from local people about how their areas can fit into the plan. It will offer the latest local public discussion on how to retool northwest Ohio's economy and restock it with good-paying jobs.

Area entrepreneurs and technology advocates said they want to make sure the governor knows that northwest Ohio is ready for the challenge. That includes panelist Charlie Carr, industrial and specialty products manager for The Andersons.

“There are people here in northwest Ohio who are very much interested in growing our businesses and employing new people and new technology,” Mr. Carr said. “We want to do anything we can to be a part of his program.”

Governor Taft has said his proposal aims to end Ohio's decades-long loss of high-wage jobs as the world economy shifts to one where “knowledge is king.” He calls it the third frontier, citing two earlier challenges that Ohio overcame in its history: settling the area two centuries ago and becoming an industrial powerhouse a century ago.

Ohio - and northwest Ohio - was able to boost residents' paychecks above the national average because it embraced factories and mass-production last century. But now, the state hasn't fully embraced new economic realities, and the paychecks have stagnated. Northwest Ohio has seen its wages plummet from 8 percent above the national average in 1977 to 15 percent below by 2000.

Economic developers are now trying to foster university research, investment funds, and entrepreneurism - the foundation other successful areas laid in the 1980s and 1990s. That culture allows an area to generate bright ideas and quickly turn them into cutting-edge products for which the rest of the world is willing to pay top dollar. That creates good-paying jobs.

The 10-year Third Frontier project would build research facilities, fund product development, lure top researchers to Ohio, and help established industries retool for the information age. The governor believes that the $1.6 billion in state money would lure enough federal and private contributions to boost the fund to $6 billion.

But there remain hurdles. With Mr. Taft up for re-election in 2003, some Democrats have derided the plan as too weak to cure Ohio's ills. Plus, nearly a third of the plan would be funded by bonds, which must be approved by voters.

Regardless, Governor Taft is spending this year and part of 2003 touring the state promoting the plan and holding the regional summits to get feedback. He's been to Cincinnati and Dayton, and his office has invited 300 people to the 10 a.m. event at Toledo Hospital's Education Center Auditorium. The governor especially wants to hear what economic strengths each region believes it possesses, said Mark Rickel, a spokesman for the state Department of Development.

“We're looking at what we're going to invest in,” Mr. Rickel said. “The return on investment is going to be crucial.”

Just like Toledo exploited the auto-parts industry to produce a slew of good jobs in the 20th century, area leaders have been informally formulating some key areas that Toledo could compete in the 21st century, ranging from solar cells to specialty glass and plastics.

Another area - construction technology - could emerge if plans come through for heavy highway, hospital, and school building projects in the region over the next decade.

Panelist Amy Whitehead, who runs the advocacy agency Regional Technology Alliance, said she envisions local companies developing products ranging from specialty construction software to surveying equipment.

Ms. Child, like other advocates, said the region is ready for a turnaround, provided that state leaders recognize that there are talented people with deserving endeavors beyond the big-city limits.

“Those folks are in Toledo. They are in Findlay. They're in Bowling Green. They're in Lima,” she said. “We just have to be brought together to have a common voice.”

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