With a potentially bruising mayoral election only eight months away, Mayor Jack Ford yesterday rolled out a city-funded advertising campaign that links his administration with what he says is an economic resurgence for Toledo.
The "Toledo Works" logo - with the words "Jack Ford, Mayor" - will be emblazoned on billboards, a Web site, and advertisements in business publications as the brand name for the city's economic development efforts.
A Toledo Works billboard was up yesterday on the Anthony Wayne Trail, just south of South Avenue. The program has its own Web site, www.toledoworks.org, which invites residents to download a "Toledo Works, Jack Ford, Mayor" sign and to submit testimonials about Toledo's quality of life and dedicated employees.
The city's Department of Economic Development is spending $9,800 on billboards, and the mayor's office is spending $9,800 on public relations and design services with Funk Luetke Skunda Marketing Inc., according to public information officer Mary Chris Skeldon.
The city's Department of Information and Communications Technology is contributing $5,000 worth of services by hosting the Web site.
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In a morning news conference, Mr. Ford said the campaign was being funded by $30,000 from "private sources," which he did not identify. Later in the day, Ms. Skeldon clarified that all the start-up cash is coming from the city and that no private funds have been contributed yet. She said the United Auto Workers union has pledged $20,000 for future phases of the campaign.
City Councilman Rob Ludeman, a possible Republican candidate for mayor, said Toledo Works is a "blatant" taxpayer-funded re-election effort. He also questioned why the city is launching what appears to be a solo economic development initiative at a time when it is supposed to be combining its economic development program with Lucas County.
"I don't think we want to spend taxpayer money to put his name all over the city in an election year. He didn't do anything for three years. Now he's pulling out all the stops," Mr. Ludeman said.
Mr. Ford harked back to the 1997 "Keep Jeep" campaign that worked to convince the Chrysler Corp. to build its new Jeep assembly plant in Toledo. "Our community came together with one voice to tell our story. And we were heard," Mr. Ford said.
That campaign was launched on Valentine's Day, 1997, when The Blade distributed 170,000 copies of "Toledo Loves its Jeep'' posters. The Feb. 14 issue also included free classified ads from readers expressing admiration for Toledo's best-known product. On July 28, 1997, Chrysler announced it would invest $1.2 billion to expand the Stickney Avenue plant and renovate the Jeep Parkway plant.
Mr. Ford said the goal of the project is to tell Toledo's story of manufacturing productivity. He said the $900 million expansion of DaimlerChrysler's Toledo North Assembly Plant with three new suppliers, as well as the promise of at least five additional suppliers, is a sign of a resurgent city.
The Jeep expansion is credited for 2,995 jobs retained and 637 jobs to be created by the suppliers under construction adjacent to the Stickney facility.
"We have a compelling story, one of unmatched productivity," Mr. Ford said.
Toledo Works also will make the case that economic development has advanced under Mr. Ford's oversight. Mr. Ford said 2,842 jobs have been created through the direct efforts of the city's economic development department since he took office at the beginning of 2002. In addition, he said, the city "has been working with companies to retain 6,938 jobs at companies in the city."
A list provided by the administration identified 115 projects that have created or expanded jobs through the assistance of the city's economic development department during 2003, 2004, and 2005. It claimed 940 new jobs in 2005 alone. The list for 2002, Mr. Ford's first year in office, had no specifics, but claimed 1,265 jobs created - close to half the total number.
Typically, employers sign contracts promising a certain number of jobs in exchange for city assistance such as loans, facade grants, and tax abatement.
The list of new and retained jobs does not attempt to account for businesses that have closed or moved out of Toledo, such as Convergys Corp., a call-in center that eliminated 570 jobs when it closed in February, 2004.
"If our city can create 2,800 jobs in tough times, imagine what we can do if we have a sustained effort," Mr. Ford said.
Mr. Ford is up for re-election in November. He said political considerations played no part in the design of Toledo Works. "The way I look at it, I'm trying to get a whole lot of things done because I don't know what role I will have a year from now," Mr. Ford said.
"We just want to be aggressive and be mayor all the way through this year. This is just something I hope will continue, and whoever's mayor eight years from now will be talking about this," Mr. Ford said.
City Councilman Frank Szollosi said the campaign could help encourage Owens-Illinois Inc. to remain in its downtown headquarters. He said he was told that O-I would not welcome a "Keep Jeep"-style campaign, with window placards, rallies, and letter-writing. But he said the message of Toledo Works may hit home.
"A Toledo Works-style positive marketing effort directed toward people who make economic development decisions reaches out to people at O-I," Mr. Szollosi said. "It boosts morale, lets them know we're interested in marketing the city in a positive way."
Steven McCracken, O-I's chairman and chief executive officer, has said he will decide by June 30 whether to move the world headquarters with its 340 jobs from One SeaGate to Levis Development Park in Perrysburg.
The Toledo Works logo will be the city government's "brand name" for economic development efforts, Ms. Skeldon said.
"This is about promoting our work force to employers. This is about defining Toledo as a city of productive, strong workers to make the community attractive to businesses to locate here," Ms. Skeldon said.
Featured in the billboard are photographs of three local people - ironworker Joe Blaze III, Jeep worker Pedro Lizsano, and Diana Patton, a holistic health counselor and owner of a company called Equilibria, according to the mayor's office.
Joining Mr. Ford at the news conference was Bill Brennan, president of Associated General Contractors, and Brian Murray, an international representative of United Auto Workers Region 2-B.
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