By Marc Kovac
Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped slightly in November, the first time in months that the account of the state’s jobless rolls decreased.
Statehouse Democrats say the less-than-desirable results signal the wrong kind of turnaround for an economy that was recovering — and they blame the policies of Gov. John Kasich and his Republican counterparts in the Legislature.
“As the U.S. economy expands at the fastest pace since 2011, the number of unemployed Ohioans remains at an abysmal 427,000,” Rep. Debbie Phillips, a Democrat from Albany, said after the latest unemployment report earlier this month. “Gov. Kasich’s top-down economic policies are in full effect, and it’s no coincidence that Ohio was No. 1 in the nation for job loss in November. Ohio is moving in the wrong direction.”
During a year-in-review speech before chamber of commerce groups recently in Columbus, the governor touted policies adopted under his administration to balance the state budget, reduce tax rates and replenish a nearly depleted rainy day-fund.
And he said people across the country are starting to take notice.
“I’m going to tell you, Ohio is going in the right direction,” he said. “You feel it. People across the state feel it. We know it to be true. Now is the time to double down.”
He added, “We need your help, we need your optimism, we need your ideas. We are an open administration, and you have to tell us how we can do better.”
The governor remains supportive and optimistic about the private nonprofit that is heading the state’s economic development efforts.
“JobsOhio is the most important economic development tool in America,” he said. “Other states are beginning to emulate it, and you will see them begin to do it. Why? Many of you know the JobsOhio people. When they come to see you, they actually know what you’re talking about. And it is important when you talk to job creators that you have people who have expertise in the field. [JP Morgan Chase Chief Executive Officer] Jamie Dimon does not want to talk to a bureaucrat who does not understand financial services, OK?
“We have the largest number of Chase employees in the state of Ohio, did you know that? Outside of New York, we’re No. 1. He’s a smart guy. You’ve got to talk to him. You’ve got to move quickly. You’ve got to move fast. It reminds of me of Abbott Labs that was thinking about going to Indiana and [JobsOhio] put together a program, and within 24 hours we submitted a program to Abbott Labs, and the new facility, the newest type of technology that they produce, is in Ohio now. Why? Quick, fast, knew what we were doing, understand financial services, agriculture, IT, energy...
“In the past, they didn’t answer the bell quickly enough or didn’t understand the issues as thoroughly as they needed to. JobsOhio went through some political nonsense, and we’ve kind of cleared the brush on that, I guess, kind of given up on that, and now this organization is starting to grow. It’s starting to fill out its ranks. And for all of you, understand that economic growth does not just come from the top down, it comes from the bottom up. I encourage all of you to get [JobsOhio officials] out into your community. The approach on economic development is hub and the spokes: You are the spokes, they are the hub and we are there to serve you.”
Kasich also remains upbeat about the state’s economy, though he and other Statehouse Republicans say federal policies are hampering recovery.
“You know, we’re up almost 175,000, 174,800 new jobs. ...,” he said. “Even in a slower period, we’ve grown almost 20 percent, 17 percent in job creation. And we have a pipeline now that is as exciting as anything we’ve seen and we have some announcements coming soon that are going to make you very, very happy. Why is this happening? It’s happening because we have predictability. ... I’m on the phone just about every day with CEOs. I had CEO calls today, to talk to them about our state. There is a growing recognition that Ohio is a place to be.”
The governor said his efforts to reduce the state’s income tax and other tax rates, combined with what Ohio has to offer companies relocating here, will lead to business growth.
“Let me explain something to you, this involves where we want to go,” he said. “Nobody thanks you for a tax cut. Doesn’t happen. People don’t run up to you and say, ‘Oh, thank you for cutting my income tax.’ They don’t do that. But it’s almost like exercise. No one thanks you for exercise, but over the long haul you’re healthier. Look, we don’t have an ocean, OK? We don’t have mountains. But we have a lot of things in Ohio that are fantastic: great neighborhoods, great vocation. Well, we do have sort of an ocean up north, close to one. But we have so many things in our state. Great higher education, no question about it. Good K-12. But we need to be able to compete on the economic level. Cutting income taxes is not about some darn mindless philosophy. It’s about making Ohio more attractive and more competitive with other states. It’s part of what we need in the toolbox to be able to get people to understand this. To say that we have the largest tax cut in America, you know what that says to CEOs? ... It says that, wow, how did Ohio balance its budget and by the way generate a $1.4 billion surplus in less than three years? And you’re cutting taxes? ... That’s why people around the country are beginning to say that Ohio is working. ... We’re going to do everything we can here to provide a lower cost of doing business. You have a common sense regulatory authority, not no regulation ... but we’re not going to have mindless regulation that’s duplicative. ... When companies feel comfortable that they can make an investment and it’s not going to come around and whack them upside the back of the head, they want to do it.”
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.