Health care, agriculture driving economy

Published 10:27 am Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The engine of Ohio’s economy is fueled by many parts — workers, business owners, educators, researchers — which encompass a number of different industries.

Last week, I talked about the importance of leveraging Ohio’s manufacturing strength and expertise to attract new high-tech development and create jobs.

Agriculture and health care are two other industries that are critical to our state’s future economic success.

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Ohio has a centuries-old farming tradition and is home to a multi-billion dollar agriculture industry that employs thousands of Ohioans and helps feed millions of people across the country.

Our state also boasts some of the best hospitals in the world with top-notch doctors, researchers and other medical professionals.

In a rapidly changing marketplace, it is critical that we do everything possible to support opportunities for growth in these industries and ensure they have the resources and environment to prosper in Ohio.

Consistent with this effort, this past spring, the Ohio General Assembly approved Senate Bill 131, bipartisan legislation that establishes a bio-products preferred purchasing program for the state to encourage the development of plastics, paints, polymer foam, packing supplies, and many other innovative products from corn, soybeans, and other renewable materials native to Ohio.

An example is a soy-based replacement for WD40, which is currently made from petroleum. There is also much hope that the Russian dandelion will help provide a natural replacement for rubber.

While the state’s efforts to promote the development of new agriculture-based products and fund soil and water districts and other programs are important to the future of farming in Ohio, it is equally critical that we work to create a regulatory environment that keeps Ohioans safe, but is not so unwieldy that it discourages investment and job creation.

For instance, Ohio has been much slower to permit the construction of ethanol plants than neighboring states, which puts us at a competitive disadvantage in attracting development. Fortunately, after some delay, we now have an ethanol facility permitted in Fayette County.

There was some promising research conducted in Clinton County recently in conjunction with the Ohio State University which showed that raspberries could be used to treat and prevent certain types of cancer. This project provides a link between Ohio’s agriculture industry and another major sector of Ohio’s economy: health care.

The Cleveland Clinic is now one of Ohio’s largest employers. In addition, funding from the Ohio Third Frontier program has gone to support the research and development of a number of cutting-edge medical technologies, including devices for joint replacement and prosthetics.

These advancements will not only help improve health care worldwide, but create opportunities for business and job growth in Ohio.

However, while working to capitalize on the many promising economic opportunities in the health care industry, we must also try to contain medical costs, which are having a tremendous impact on family, business and government budgets and the stability of our economy.

The House and Senate also recently passed Senate Bill 214, bipartisan legislation that I sponsored which increases opportunities under Ohio’s Home First law by making seniors and disabled Ohioans, who are at-risk of imminent admission to a nursing facility, immediately eligible for PASSPORT, Assisted Living or PACE, the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly. The bill works to give Ohio consumers greater choice in the health care they receive, while saving taxpayers millions of dollars per year.

With ever increasing pressure on the state and local budgets, we must find more efficient ways to access care without sacrificing quality.

Health care is both an opportunity and a challenge.

I wrote in a recent column about the tremendous cost that the federal health care bill will have on individuals, businesses and Ohio’s budget.

But, as we work to sort through the many concerns with the federal health care bill and explore other ways to help contain medical costs, Ohio must continue to focus on opportunities to create jobs in the agriculture and health care industry and foster an environment in our state where the people working and investing in these areas have the resources to grow and succeed.

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.