In his State of the State address Tuesday, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft acknowledged that this is a state in transition from an economy that was anchored in aging industries to one that will have to rely on more dynamic manufacturing and high-tech industries.
In the past, the governor has called for both the Clinton and Bush administrations to provide protection for the steel industry against unfair competition. But while neither the governor nor this newspaper wants to see this state or the nation lose the ability to make steel, it is clear that the economic future of the state must be tied more to new industries than to old ones.
Looking ahead: It was appropriate, then, that the governor would devote the largest part of his State of the State speech to what he called the "Third Frontier." Ohio's pioneers carved the state from the wilderness in the first frontier. Then its pioneers of invention, industry and labor built a state that prospered in the 20th century.
This new, third frontier is one of knowledge and innovation. It is a place where biomedical research, nanotechnology, fuel cells and information software drive the economy.
The governor has proposed a $1.6 billion investment in technology that would boost research and development over the next decade to create new high-tech industries and high-paying jobs in the state. About a third of the money would come from the state capital improvement budget and another third from a $500 million bond program. Much of the money would be used to match federal funds and private investment, which could boost the total investment in Ohio to as much as $6 billion.
The governor is already going around the state to drum up interest in the plan. Yesterday, he visited LeadScope Inc., a 4-year-old company on Ohio State University's science and technology campus. LeadScope's software helps drug manufacturers reduce the time it takes to get their products to market.
Bringing it home: Today, Taft is visiting one of the oldest names in Mahoning Valley industrial history, but one that has a tradition of being on the technological cutting edge of its industry. Taft is at the Delphi Packard Electric Testing Center in Champion in Trumbull County.
Taft's third frontier proposal represents an opportunity for Ohio to invest in its future. Ohio's universities are turning out high-tech graduates, but too many are leaving the state to find jobs.
It also provides an opportunity for communities such as the Mahoning Valley to improve their economic outlook. High-tech industries should be able to flourish in any part of the state, not just in two or three major metropolitan areas.
Youngstown already has a track record of success at the Youngstown Business Incubator, where software start-up companies are being nurtured. More potential for success lies ahead.
It will be up to the business, education, community, labor and political leaders of the Mahoning Valley to come together to develop a strategy that will allow this area to reap the greatest rewards from the governor's plan for a new, high-tech Ohio.