For the third time in six years, northwest Ohio's top economic-development agency was named among the best in the continent this month, but whether that's relevant is a matter of debate.
In its May issue, Site Selection magazine ranked the Regional Growth Partnership among the top 20 such groups in North America, based on the number of new jobs and investment dollars it reported.
“I'm excited for the community that we got recognized for this award. It's outside validation,” said the growth partnership's president, Don Jakeway.
But critics say those measurements are largely hollow, and uncounted job losses and stagnant wages should be the centerpiece of discussion on the agency's performance.
“They can't get away with this kind of crap,” said former Toledo mayor Carty Finkbeiner, now a member of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority's board of directors. “This is nothing more than Don Jakeway putting a selective spin on the numbers.”
The announcement of the award yesterday by the growth partnership reopened a raw debate about just how to measure the region's economic development efforts.
The national magazine is geared to executives who decide where to locate new or relocate old expanding companies, and the growth partnership won the award in 1997 and 2001.
In 2002, the growth partnership reported 52 new projects creating 1,283 jobs and $350 million in investment - enough to win a Site Selection “honorable mention” award for 2003.
Mr. Jakeway attributed this year's honors to convincing Toledo-based Dana to move its research and development facility from Indiana to Maumee. The new, $70 million facility will employ about 450 jobs earning an average of $62,000 a year - with 275 of those jobs being new to the region.
Still, Mr. Finkbeiner and fellow port authority board member Jerry Chabler said the broader picture of the region's economy is alarming.
They referred to The Blade's 2002 series, “Stuck in Gear,” which showed northwest Ohio's average wage was 8 percent above the national average in 1977, but has since dropped to 15 percent below the U.S. norm.
They also referred to a 2001 ING study that ranked Toledo 101st in job creation out of 125 metro areas, as well as a report this year from Economy.com that ranked metro Toledo's forecasted job growth at 262nd out of 325 metros.
“As long as the community keeps believing what the RGP and Don Jakeway put out relative to economic development, we'll continue to wallow in the bowels of mediocrity,” Mr. Chabler said.
Added Mr. Finkbeiner: “It's very clear that we are not gaining an economy that's going to be able to keep abreast with the job losses.”
Both questioned whether the growth partnership's past advertising in the magazine played a part in the award.
Magazine editor Mark Arend said it did not, and Mr. Jakeway said the suggestion that the growth partnership “bought the award” was “absurd.”
“I'm not going to let what they say rain on our parade,” Mr. Jakeway said.
And he claimed Mr. Finkbeiner's criticism is disingenuous because he was happy about the first two awards during his mayoral tenure. Mr. Finkbeiner countered he never knew about the past awards.
It's not the first time the relevance of the growth partnership figures has been questioned. The 2002 Blade series found that about 15 percent of the agency's created or retained jobs since 1994 were double-counted or don't exist anymore.
And some academics have said such measurements are only half the picture. They don't measure how much the new jobs pay, or the pay and number of jobs lost during that period.
The growth partnership's board chairman, Mark Zyndorf, said he agrees in part with some of those measurement concerns, and the agency is trying to address them.
But he said it would be wrong to dismiss the Site Selection award as irrelevant.
“We've proved that, under what's happening in this economy, we're among the top 20 in the country,” Mr. Zyndorf said. “But we still have, as everybody knows, a long way to go ... to make northwest Ohio stronger, better, and with more employment.”