Valley plays a key role in charting innovative growth


Let’s face it. Despite some noteworthy gains in recent years, Ohio continues to play a losing game of catch-up with most other states in the region and the nation when it comes to advancing its economic livelihood – particularly its forward-thinking innovation economy.

That’s the blunt but realistic premise behind an expansive and newly released report issued by the Research Foundation of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and drafted by TEConomy Partners LLC, a Columbus firm specializing in research and analysis for innovation-based economic development.

The report asks Ohio to consider the less than admirable place it holds today in several key parameters of economic health. For example, over the past 21/2 decades, the Buckeye State’s gross domestic product of 6.6 percent growth has trailed the nation’s 8.8 percent rate; population has grown at a feeble 6.1 percent compared with 27.7 percent nationwide, and wages have risen a relatively modest 17 percent compared with 26 percent for the country as a whole.

But unlike many studies, reports and white papers that merely look at how dismal things are, the new report refreshingly looks at how better they can be. The chamber’s “Ohio BOLD: A Blueprint for Accelerating the Innovation Economy” focuses forcefully on the future. It wisely suggests more robust efforts be made to harness and broaden the state’s most shining examples of strong 21st-century economic models.

Prime among those models are the plethora of premium next-generation manufacturing successes that have sprouted up in the Mahoning Valley in recent years.

“NextGen manufacturing is the area where we really look to Youngstown,” said Elliot Reed, a foundation board member and program manager for the REDI zone, a public-private partnership at Northeast Ohio Medical University. He and other key figures in producing and promoting “Ohio: Bold” met with members of The Vindicator Editorial Board last week in advance of the report’s official release.

He and others, in fact, praised leadership of the Youngstown Business Incubator, America Makes and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber for taking aggressive advisory roles in developing the foundation’s report.

REPLICATING YOUNGSTOWN’S SUCCESS

Those cutting-edge and job-creating institutions in the Valley have played leading roles in reinventing our economy. They have gained acclaim and support nationwide, most recently this week in the announcement by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, of a $185,000 federal grant to increase 3D printing software and equipment at the YBI.

Katie Koglman, foundation executive director, recognizes as much and has asked: “How can we take what you’re doing here in Youngstown and scale it” throughout the state?

The proposal calls for such entities as the YBI, AM and the embryonic Mahoning Valley Innovation and Commercialization Center to receive boosts in state support in part to help spread their wealth of expertise in advanced manufacturing, 3-D printing, software entrepreneurship and other emerging technologies statewide.

That expertise would play a leading role in the chamber proposal’s NextGen Manufacturing Hub, one of four proposed in the “BOLD” report. The other hubs include future health, smart infrastructure and data analytics.

Each hub is discipline-focused, not geography-focused, so that all sectors of the state could share in the rewards.

Taken as a whole, the chamber report should serve as a solid starting point for state leaders to use in charting the future economic course of Ohio.

That’s why we’re pleased that architects of the credible and data-driven report took time before its release to share it with those seeking to become the chief executive officer of the state in this fall’s general election, leading governor candidates Mike DeWine, a Republican, and Richard Cordray, a Democrat.

We hope each of them studies it carefully as potential fodder for enhancing their economic-development platforms.

Of course economic innovation at this grand of a scale won’t come cheaply. That’s why we hope state leaders act soon to place on the ballot renewal of the research and development bond issue first passed 13 years ago by voters in the state. Within a year, the funding from that $500 million bond issue will be depleted, potentially leaving promising projects in “Ohio BOLD” high and dry.

In general, we hope legislators, staff from JobsOhio and other agencies brainstorm on how some of the proposals set forth in the chamber report can be fine-tuned and implemented. In so doing, Ohio can begin to make a concerted push to at last catch up with and eventually overtake many other states in innovative economic might.

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