The release Friday by Ohio's Development Services Agency of the 2012 Annual Report for JobsOhio will serve dual constituencies, one that believes it's the job-creation magic hat Gov. John Kasich said it would be, while giving its critics, who have railed about its secrecy to and unaccountable from prying public eyes since its launch in early 2011, more evidence it's a black box operation where sunlight will never shine.
Black box or magic hat?
Jobs Ohio boasts in its report that it has dramatically changed the State’s job creation and economic development through a "cultural change from the way economic development was conducted in the past." Its mission is to drive "job creation, new capital investment, and economic growth by being a leading provider of innovative business solutions to companies."
But from its first days as a campaign concept, introduced in 2010 when citizen Kasich pummeled then Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland with great success for Ohio's poor performance during the worst recession since the Great Depression, JobsOhio, a private non-profit transformation of the state's formerly public development department, christened with help and speed by a friendly Republican legislature two years ago, has so far been unharmed by attempts by critics to have the Ohio Supreme Court rule it unconstitutional.
It admits as much in its report: "Despite significant bi-partisan support for JobsOhio, legal challenges delayed the long-term funding plan for economic development, hindering our efforts to facilitate the creation of more jobs for Ohioans."
Now that it has funding from a bond sale based on future liquor profits, a letter penned by Board Chairman James C. Boland and John F. Minor, Jr., President and Chief Investment Officer forecast declares, " ... we are now positioned to expand our team and ramp up our efforts in 2013."
Since the release of the report last Friday, the media has focused on approximately $7 million in private donations and which staff positions draw in yearly salary. Newspapers seized on the revelation that four employees earned more than Gov. Kasich's annual salary of approximately $148,000 during its first year in operation.
JobsOhio financial records filed with the state show the nonprofit pays $225,000 to John Minor, one of four employees who make more than does Gov. Kasich. Half of the 26 employees who work at JobsOhio earn at least $100,000 per year.
Laura Jones, JobsOhio spokeswoman, said overall payroll commitments were down $1.3 billion, or 27 percent, from 2011, due to political uncertainly at the federal level. "The economy started to slow down in general,” Jones told Columbus Business First, attributing it to the presidential election and gridlock surrounding the so-called Federal fiscal cliff standoff between the White House and Congress. She said that while businesses held off on making decisions, they still doubled capital investment spending to $5.8 billion from 2011.
Jones' admission that job creation in Ohio is linked to the national economy is important since Gov. Kasich has taken credit from Ohio's rise from the ashes of the Great Recession, during which it lost over 400 thousand jobs. Gov. Strickland made the same argument, that Ohio can't be expected to create jobs when the national economy slides to the degree it did during the Great Recession of 2008. Gov. Kasich took the helm of Ohio more than a year, and nearly a percentage point decline in the unemployment rate after the tide started to rise again. He stepped into a rising boat, but has taken credit for that rise even as JobsOhio, by its own admission, was understaffed and underfunded.
Critics of JobsOhio say the released report sheds no light on who gives it money, with the exception of American Electric Power, a multi-state electric power generation company based in Columbus, whose contribution of $2 million came to light through other sources. Of concern to some are several pages from the report that have been redacted [blacked out] on closed deals. At issue, as it has been from the beginning, is whether JobsOhio is dealing honestly or whether political deals and favors, now that Gov. Kasich is in campaign mode for his reelection in 2014, are being cut, as snooping public eyes are kept at bay, making it a black box operation whose real inner workings are hidden from sight.
Gov. Kasich took on JobsOhio's largest active hunter at a press gathering just last month, claiming a lawsuit filed by ProgressOhio is just political gamesmanship by Democrats who want to derail his turnaround plan. "There's no legitimacy to this. Constitutional issue? Come on. This is a political issue designed to wreck the progress we're having in Ohio," Gov. Kasich told reporters.
ProgressOhio, a liberal advocacy non-profit based in Columbus, filed a lawsuit that alleges the legislative bill that enabled the transfer of authority violates the Ohio Constitution in several ways, one of which funnels the state's liquor operations to JobsOhio for its operations while a second would lend the credit of the state to a private corporation.
• Posted solid 2012 results. JobsOhio worked with 277 companies that committed to create 20,979 jobs, retain 54,633 jobs, and make $5.8 billion in new capital investment.
• Implemented JobsOhio’s initial strategic plan, a first-of-its kind document built on industry strategies for the State of Ohio that provided a framework for proactive economic development.
• Completed our regional network partnership, forming an organized structure that unites JobsOhio, regional partners, and local economic development entities through a strategic plan, formal information sharing, and training.
• Finalized our contract with the Ohio Development Services Agency (ODSA), establishing JobsOhio as the lead economic development organization for the State of Ohio with ODSA providing essential services in support of those efforts.
• Launched ThriveInOhio, an advertising campaign to celebrate the success and growth of people and businesses in Ohio through a mix of television, print, and online ads.
According to JobsOhio's Q2 2012 quarterly report, more than 111,000 jobs were created since January 2011, the start of the Kasich Administration. It also points to Ohio's lowest unemployment rate since 2008, when Ohio and virtually every other state lost millions of jobs over the course of several years as the economy tanked in the wake of a financial meltdown on Wall Street triggered by a housing bubble, based on subprime mortgages that turned out to be flimsy or false. JobsOhio's momentum, the report said, "is supported by an improved economic climate, Governor Kasich—a business-minded governor, and a new economic development strategy that is focused on delivering positive job results throughout the state."
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