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State development chief makes good impression



Published: Sun, September 2, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



State Sen. Bruce E. Johnson had a pretty high bar to clear when he met last week with Vindicator writers. Johnson had to convince us that his lack of credentials for the job of director of the Ohio Department of Development would not be a detriment; that he was aware of the major economic development challenges confronting the Mahoning Valley, most especially the future of General Motors Corp.'s Lordstown assembly plant; and that he was not Columbus-centric, considering his deep roots in Franklin County.

Johnson, a Republican who represents the 3rd Senate District and is prohibited by term limits from running again next year, cleared the bar -- with some room to spare. Granted, it's a first impression and he could change for the worse after beginning his new assignment Sept. 17, but for now we are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

He said all the right things about the on-going effort to persuade General Motors to build its next generation of compact cars at the Lordstown plant and echoed Gov. Bob Taft's public statements that this project is the administration's top priority.

Taft, who tapped Johnson to succeed Lee Johnson as director of department of development, has said that Ohio's incentive package for GM is not only superior to those from competing states, but replicates what was done for Chrysler Corp. when it was looking for a site for its new Jeep plant. Chrysler chose Toledo.

Johnson pledged that he and his staff will continue to work closely with General Motors to make sure that there aren't any insurmountable hurdles. This should reassure the residents of the Mahoning Valley who have long questioned state government's commitment to the region.

The Valley's economic health is inextricably tied to automobile manufacturing, which is why labor and management at the assembly facility and the adjacent fabricating plant have forged a partnership designed to foster a positive labor climate.

Indeed, the willingness of workers to embrace new contracts that clearly benefit General Motors is deserving of recognition. Just about every demand the top executives in Detroit have made has been met. That is why this region is looking to the Taft administration to bring the new project home.

Jobs: We were also struck by soon-to-be DOD Director Johnson's view that communities must have a "job bent" aspect to their requests for state development money. In other words, while high-profile lifestyle projects, such as theaters and sports arenas, might grab headlines, state government is more interested in initiatives that have job creation or job retention goals.

Johnson should not be surprised, therefore, when shortly after taking office he finds a request for state dollars for a state-of-the-art office building to house the high technology companies that are on the verge of "graduating" from the Youngstown Business Incubator.

YBI and Youngstown State University have formed an important partnership with regard to high technology and an office building would be the second phase of a high-tech project that the governor supported in the last capital budget. Youngstown State and the Youngstown Business Incubator are working together to utilize the $1 million grant received from the state for two important high-tech initiatives.

Johnson is undoubtedly aware of the High Technology Start-Up Business Committee, chaired by his colleague state Sen. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, that is traveling around the state to find out how Ohio can nurture and retain high-technology start-up businesses. We would urge the new director of development to lend his support to the Youngstown project.

As we said at the beginning, we're willing to give Johnson a chance to prove to the Mahoning Valley that he isn't just paying lip service when he says that the department of development wants to be an active participant in this region's economic revitalization effort.




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