Third Frontier, Gov. Bob Taft's initiative to make Ohio competitive with other states that are growing their high-technology economies, is on the agenda of the new president of Senate, Bill M. Harris, a Republican from Ashland. That's good news for the state and for the Mahoning Valley.
With Harris on board, the Republican governor should have no difficulty persuading the GOP-controlled General Assembly to again place a $500 million bond issue -- one of the three legs of the Third Frontier initiative -- on the general election ballot. Last July, we urged Taft to resurrect the half-billion-dollar bond issue, which was narrowly defeated by the voters in November 2003. The arguments we put forth then are just as valid today. Ohio has lost more than 100,000 high-paying manufacturing jobs, it is experiencing a dramatic change in its economy, and young professionals are leaving in search of greener technology pastures.
The money derived from the sale of the bonds would not only give Ohio the ability to bring new products to the market, recruit world-class researchers, entrepreneurs and industrial fellows and support start-up companies to create more jobs, but would show the rest of the nation and the world that it is willing and able to compete in the big leagues.
Sen. Harris' recognition of the importance of the Third Frontier initiative to the state's future gives us hope.
A statement released by his office makes clear his position:
"Sen. Harris has been a strong supporter of the Third Frontier program and, like many others, was disappointed when a key portion of the program was not approved by the voters in 2003. He has encouraged the governor to go back to the ballot in the hopes that voters will realize the benefits of using bond money to support economic development in this state."
Harris is well aware of the fact that without the kind of money the bond issue would generate, the state's effort to get into the high-technology arena would be incomplete at best. That's because the other two legs of the $1.6 billion plan are focused on biomedical research, the Technology Action Fund and the Innovation Ohio Fund, which encourages advanced manufacturing techniques in industries important to the regional economy.
The legislature has earmarked money in the capital budget for research facilities and equipment, but $500 million is beyond the capacity of the state budget.
That is why we strongly supported the bond issue in November 2003, and do so again.
There is a local aspect to Third Frontier that we have previously addressed in this space and have advocated to the governor, namely, the development of a market-ready office building that would house high-tech companies graduating from the Youngstown Business Incubator.
Taft, recognizing the importance of such a project to the Mahoning Valley's economic transformation, has secured $2 million for the market-ready incubator and has pledged to capture additional funding in the upcoming biennium capital budget.
The establishment of a center in downtown Youngstown housing companies involved in cutting edge technology would be a natural fit for the Third Frontier initiative.
We are well aware that the defeat of the bond issue was the result of opposition from the Farm Bureau, which swayed rural voters. However, we're confident that with Senate President Harris and House Speaker Jon Husted, a suburban Dayton Republican, joining forces with the Taft administration, the chances of passage will improve greatly.
Ohio can ill afford to fall further behind other states that have established themselves as high-technology magnets.