Jerry Arkebauer never took any accounting or finance classes in college, but for 18 years he has been in charge of the busiest public-agency financing program in Ohio.
The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority's off-balance-sheet financing, synthetic leases, and related economic-development assistance wooed what was then Burlington Air Express to build a cargo hub at Toledo Express Airport and helped persuade Owens Corning to build its new headquarters campus on the downtown Toledo Middle Grounds.
"During the past 18 years, we've done some remarkable things that are now being duplicated by port authorities across the state of Ohio," Mr. Arkebauer said yesterday, his last day before retiring from the agency.
The port authority's outgoing vice president for finance and strategic planning said he learned the economic-development trade by asking questions - a skill he had honed early on as a journalist at Toledo's WSPD radio and television stations during the 1960s.
From 1969 until 1987, Mr. Arkebauer worked in corporate communications for Owens-Illinois. He jumped to the port authority at the behest of Clarence "Doc" Pawlicki, then the port's economic development director, who dispatched him to research a long-term, fixed-interest financing program then being offered by the port authority in St. Paul.
The next year, port authority officials persuaded the Ohio legislature to allow port authorities to buy land, build buildings, and own equipment for leased use by private companies.
At the outset, Mr. Arkebauer said, the port authority participated in development-related financing mainly when prospects came calling, such as occurred with Burlington and Owens Corning. But in 1998, port president James Hartung redefined Mr. Arkebauer's job from director of administration to vice president of finance, making financing programs his primary responsibility.
Through its four programs, the port authority now is responsible for more than $1.7 billion in economic-development financing. Its counterparts in Cleveland, Akron, and Dayton now are developing similar financing programs.
"Jerry is obviously the father of our bond financing program," Michael Frank, chairman of the port authority's finance committee, said during a board meeting last week. And Mr. Hartung credited Mr. Arkebauer with putting the agency "at the far end of the curve" in developing such capability.
The program became controversial in 1998 when critics questioned the degree to which the port authority was helping businesses in counties beyond Lucas whose residents don't pay a 0.4-mill property tax to the agency for economic development services.
A levy renewal that year was defeated, but voters approved an identical follow-up proposal the next year after port officials pledged to cut travel and entertainment expenses and give local development projects their primary focus.
Mr. Arkebauer said certain programs, like the Northwest Ohio Bond Fund, "were always meant to be regional" and have become a revenue generator for the port authority.
"We get fees on all the bond issues, significantly more than the staff time we spend on them," he said. "We get a 70 percent net profit margin. That makes us less dependent on property taxes to pay for our daily operations. For the last six years, we've used the levy only for capital investments."
In retirement, Mr. Arkebauer is setting up an economic development consulting business, and also hopes to devote time to fly-fishing. His wife, Janice, teaches third grade at Fulton School in Toledo.
Learning finance on-the-job was the hard way to do it, he said, but it worked: "If you ask questions enough, you can develop enough basic knowledge to do almost anything."
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