Locals agree with Taft: Jobs are key issue

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 29, 2004

Gov. Bob Taft's sixth State of the State address Wednesday focused on jobs and improving the still struggling economy, a message that hit home for many working to promote southern Ohio.

Taft, a Republican, proposed a series of economic development programs that would cost Ohio no more than $18 million annually, a fraction of the state budget.

He called for more funding for programs that help companies train workers. Taft announced a guarantee to provide trained workers for companies that bring at least 100 jobs to Ohio.

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State Sen. John Carey (R-17th) agreed with the governor that jobs are the most important issue facing the state.

"I think his focus on jobs is good. It is kind of a broad outline," Carey said. "He talked about extending the enterprise zone program and the job tax credits which have both been important tools for our part of the state."

Carey said Taft's speech set the agenda but that they still have a lot of work to do and a lot of details to work out.

Ironton Mayor John Elam said the governor's speech illustrates that the entire state is facing many of the same issues as Lawrence County.

"I think it was upbeat, but it made me realize there are 88 counties competing just as hard as Lawrence County for job creation and retention," Elam said. "Everyone is out fighting for jobs. We need to join together as a community to make sure our voices are heard."

South Point Mayor Bill Gaskin said he was not able to watch the State of the State address, but was pleased that much of what the governor had to say dealt with economic development.

"That would be very important," Gaskin said. "I wish him a lot of luck. We certainly need it. What we need right now is highways and economic development."

Like Gaskin, Proctorville Mayor Jim Buchanan said he missed the governor's State of the State address, but said he was pleased that economic development was on the top of the governor's agenda.

"The whole country is in an economic situation right now," Buchanan said. "I hope he can do something. What Lawrence County needs right now is jobs."

The governor also announced the creation of new government committees that would help unemployed workers and companies trying to cut through government red tape.

Ironton business owner Rob Slagel did not get to watch the speech, but said what he read was encouraging because Taft focused on jobs, some of which will come to southern Ohio.

"I know we have got the opportunity for 500 jobs in Piketon with the uranium enrichment plant," Slagel said. "I know it was a long, tough battle to get that over Paducah, Ky., and I know the governor had a lot to do with it."

With southern Ohio's workforce, assets and infrastructure, the time is now and the future looks bright, Slagel said.

"In the past, the cards just haven't fallen in our direction," he said. "With Duke, Calpine and Sun Coke, it just seems like Columbus is finally looking toward southern Ohio for industrial development."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Ironton Board of Education Tuesday evening voted to award a contract to South Central Ohio Computer Association for the installation of fiber optics at all of the city's buildings.

Superintendent Dean Nance said the $65,156.64 project should be operational by June.

The fiber optics will be capable of running all of the city schools' technological equipment - computers, video conferencing and distance learning equipment, for instance.

"This will allow us to operate our Internet faster and do things we are not able to do now," Nance said. "It will make it possible to run our distance learning (facilities) at actual speed, run multiple systems (simultaneously) and gather data through the state reporting system faster, more accurately and more dependably."

The project is being funded through state grants.

"I can't wait to see the capabilities we're going to have in our classrooms, as far as reaching out to the world and being able to do it with certainty and not have to wait and pull up a Web site," Nance said. "It was a no-brainer, if you've ever dealt with connectivity problems."

In other matters, the board accepted the resignation of Bob Lutz as assistant to the principal at the high school, due to an illness in his family. His resignation is effective Feb. 6. Lutz will remain head football coach.