Competitive times require competitive measures

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The latest political football, one that could be tossed deep into next fall’s elections, is an American child without health insurance.

Here in Ohio, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland and the Republican-controlled Legislature expanded to more low-income children the popular State Children’s Health Insurance Program funded through state and federal money. The Legislature even signed off on a plan that enables families of four earning up to $103,000 a year to buy into government-run health care, provided they show they cannot get or afford coverage in the private market.

The debate hasn’t been as harmonious in Washington, where the Democratic-controlled House and Senate have passed competing plans to expand the program to help states cover additional children. Current funding, which has totaled $25 billion over the past five years, is set to expire later this year and must be reauthorized by the Legislature.

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The Senate plan would increase current funding by $35 billion over five years and the House proposes a $50 billion increase, as opposed to the $5 billion increase sought by President Bush. Bush has threatened to veto a larger expansion after the chambers get together to work out a compromise.

Some conservative Republicans are decrying both chambers’ planned expansions as the fattening of inefficient government and a step toward socialized medicine for all.

“It was a very non-controversial issue that has become very controversial because the president and a group of very conservative Republicans have decided to make this some kind of wedge issue,” said Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard Recently, a Columbus newspaper questioned a trip by Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher and his office to Russia to pursue a new steel plant for Ohio. It cost just over $40,000.

While I understand why many would question not only the amount of money spent but the reason for the trip itself, as we go through a period of economic transition in this state and across the country, I feel it is money well spent.

In order for Ohio to be competitive in the global marketplace, we must aggressively pursue economic development projects worldwide.

Earlier this year, in a similar effort, Governor Strickland met with London-based Rolls-Royce, which already employs about 1,000 people at an energy systems plant in Mt. Vernon, about expanding their operations in Ohio.

While, unfortunately, the plan never came to fruition, I commend the governor for giving it Ohio’s best shot.

For the most part, the economic reality in our region and state is that we do not score the big projects that will land a plant like Rolls-Royce, which has the potential to bring hundreds, even thousands of jobs into a community.

Instead, most job creation is like three yards and a cloud of dust.

It begins with a small business that employs 10 to 15 people or that existing employer that wants to expand.

While these small businesses are a valuable asset to Ohio’s economy, we must also work to bring large business interests to the state.

With this goal in mind, the legislature has worked in recent years to make Ohio more business friendly by changing our tax structure and removing barriers to investment.

While work to transform our economy is an ongoing effort, there are many good things going on right now in Ohio and in the 17th Senate District, including development projects and the creation of jobs recently announced in several of our counties.

It is good we are making progress.

However, despite this success, we must also realize that there are still many people who are hurting economically.

While some larger cities and employers in those cities complain of labor shortages, the 17th District has so many people who are able and willing to work or who are dying to find a job closer to home.

As we pursue more job opportunities for Ohioans, it is imperative that we take bold steps to market Ohio and its resources. Most of our job creation is going to come from within, and the Department of Development (DOD) has to be timely, creative and make programs fit the projects and not the other way around.

The business world does not wait. If a company has the option of locating in several different states, they will go with the situation that serves them best.

The DOD must also understand that each region of the state has different economic needs.

For instance, a project that creates 150 jobs paying $10 an hour in Vinton County would be a lifesaver, while they may not be desired in Columbus. I do commend Lt. Gov. Fisher for recognizing that to be successful, we have to regionalize Ohio’s economy and develop different strategies in each area of the state for creating and attracting jobs. It does not make sense to have the same incentive package for job creation in every community.

Finally, to grow our economy and achieve success in the global marketplace, we must have a sense of urgency. Ohio has to go after each opportunity for good paying jobs at full tilt. I believe that is the desire of Gov. Strickland and Lt. Gov. Fisher, but the challenge will be to change the mindset of all who work in state government and who have a hand in turning around Ohio’s economy.

During my time in office, I have very much enjoyed working with the DOD. They have been sincere in their efforts and have always been accessible over the years.

The Governor’s Office of Appalachia will also be a tremendous advocate for our region as we press forward.

I understand why many people are frustrated with the current state of Ohio’s economy, but I hope this column provides some optimism that work is being done to move our state forward.

In the coming weeks and months, I look forward to many more positive announcements for Ohio and especially for our region.

Senator John A. Carey is a Wellston native who serves part of Lawrence County. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215, or call my office at (614) 466-8156.