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Published: Friday, 2/22/2008

Toledo firm makes political mark as one of three suppliers of Obama signs

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
At Clear Images, on 11th Street near downtown, Todd Cutcher loads posters for an anti-reflective coating. At Clear Images, on 11th Street near downtown, Todd Cutcher loads posters for an anti-reflective coating.
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Frank Ozanski is helping Barack Obama's campaign stay on message.

Mr. Ozanski's downtown Toledo printing firm, Clear Images Promotional Products LLC, produces about 20,000 signs and bumper stickers a week for the candidate for the Democrats' presidential nomination.

"As he wins a state and keeps taking more of a lead, the orders keep coming in," he said. He estimates that, since late last year, he has supplied 500,000 stickers, rally signs, and lawn placards. Clear Images is one of three firms supplying signs nationwide.

Mr. Ozanski shifted gears yesterday after getting a call late Wednesday seeking signs with a new slogan: "Keeping America's Promise." Graphics soon came in by e-mail with instructions to have 2,000 signs ready for pickup by 4 p.m. yesterday.

"They want a quick turnaround," the 45-year-old businessman said of the candidate's advertising strategists. As the race for the Democratic nomination has heated up, orders have come with new urgency.

"We used to get an order for 55,000 and were given a week to do it," he explained. "Now we get an order for 14,000 and get 24 hours to do it."

Clear Images, 121 11th St., began 14 years ago as a hobby in Mr. Ozanski's basement. Today, he operates the firm with business partner Mike Micel, 31.

They were hired for the work by Tigereye Design, of Greenville, Ohio., which won the contract to supply the Obama campaign nationally. The firm sends surplus work to Toledo and a firm in the West. They are the campaign's only sign suppliers, said Tony Baltes, Tigereye president.

The firms are union shops, which is important for candidates, especially Democrats.

Mr. Ozanski's 13 employees are represented by Sign Display & Allied Trades Local 639 in Strongsville, Ohio.

He is impressed with the Obama campaign's attention to detail. He points out that each Obama sign is printed with a special coating to reduce glare from camera lights.

And the U.S. senator from Illinois isn't the only presidential-nomination candidate who has been supplied by Clear Images. About a month ago, the Toledo firm printed a batch of bumper stickers for Republican candidate John McCain. Earlier, the company did work for former Democratic candidate Bill Richardson.

Unfortunately for Clear Images, orders aren't likely to continue at the current pace if Mr. Obama wins the Democratic nomination. Because of the huge number of signs that will be needed, his campaign probably will switch from cardboard to plastic signs. Mr. Ozanski's firm lacks capacity to print such signs. But it does make wire stands for them and is working with another local firm on a bid that would keep work flowing into northwest Ohio.

Mr. Ozanski hopes he has demonstrated his reliability. When the Obama campaign was unable to arrange transportation in time for a load of signs needed in New Hampshire on New Year's Eve, he loaded his wife and 14-year-old daughter into a truck and delivered them personally. "We made it a little family trip," he said with a chuckle.

Although Mr. Obama is a long way from the White House, he has delivered on one campaign promise: boosting employment.

To keep up with the added business, Mr. Ozanski added a second shift and six employees. "We're usually dormant this time of year," he said.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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