State should do more to buy local

Published 10:01 am Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My father is celebrating his 50th year as a trash collector in Wellston. He has always taught us to support local businesses even if it cost a little more, because they were his customers, and he knew that the strength of a community is largely built on the success of the neighborhood hardware store, the small grocer or the local manufacturer.

When I got married and started my own family, I passed this lesson along to my wife and kids. As Mayor of Wellston, I encouraged my wife, Lynley, to shop in town as much as possible. She embraced the idea wholeheartedly, and when I became a state senator, she reasoned that our family should support the small businesses across all 10 counties of the 17th Senate District.

I also bring this philosophy to my position on the state Controlling Board. While Ohio is bound by reciprocal agreements with neighboring states and there are times that agencies need to purchase from out-of-state vendors, I believe the state should work with Ohio companies and purchase goods made in Ohio whenever possible.

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Recently, the Ohio Department of Transportation asked members of the Controlling Board to approve a $450,000 contract with a California-based firm to do a rail study, even though four Ohio companies submitted proposals and appeared qualified. I opposed the request because upon questioning an ODOT employee, he admitted that the agency did not consider supporting Ohio business when choosing a vendor for the project.

He said that the study was funded by a federal grant and the law prohibits ODOT from giving preference to companies in Ohio.

This issue is a recurrent theme at Controlling Board meetings. It bothers me when an agency passes over an Ohio company to contract with an out-of-state firm because this decision not only impacts our economy, but also sends the wrong message that Ohio does not have the technical skills or cannot develop the expertise necessary to do the job.

Last summer, Governor Strickland issued an executive order calling for all state agencies to “Think Ohio First” when choosing vendors for state projects. Each agency is given a Think Ohio First score based on their record of doing business with Ohio companies, and it is posted on Ohio’s Business Gateway website,

In these difficult economic times, I agree with the Governor that now more than ever we need to “Think Ohio First.”

However, as evidenced by ODOT’s recent request, all too often this philosophy has not translated to the people reviewing the contracts and presenting to the Controlling Board.

Going back to the lessons I learned in my Economic 101 class, the state needs to take advantage of every opportunity to invest taxpayer dollars in way that will help Ohio companies grow, create jobs and stay in business. They deserve this support.

Ohio has limited resources, so the General Assembly must focus on maximizing results, while also striving to fulfill our mission of providing a safe and healthy environment for all Ohioans.

For example, the Controlling Board recently rejected a proposal from Miami University to buy $500 chairs for staff and faculty offices and conference rooms at their new business school.

I do not think it’s appropriate for the state to spend thousands of dollars on expensive furniture, particularly at the same time there have been significant cuts to key government services and many Ohio families are struggling to make ends meet.

In addition, when I think of such things as using speed cameras in construction zones—a proposal that was included in the Governor’s transportation budget, House Bill 2, but removed by the Senate—I cannot imagine that the people I represent want more government intrusion in their lives and for this policy to be supported with their taxpayer dollars.

The same goes for passenger rail. I do not think the residents of the 17th District want to subsidize rail service from Columbus to Cleveland when it does not make financial sense.

During debate and discussion on the state operating budget this spring, the Strickland Administration and the Legislature will have to prioritize by investing in areas that are critical to Ohio’s future success and working to weed-out wasteful and unnecessary spending.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District.He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.