Nearly 8 years ago, Governor Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly established JobsOhio as an innovative tool to create new jobs, and retain longstanding jobs in Ohio’s communities. As a recent report by McKinsey& Co has concluded, JobsOhio is living up to its stated goal of job creation in Ohio.
However, the perception, and to some extent the reality, is that the new and expanded employment centers facilitated by JobsOhio have tended to concentrate in already prospering counties and metro regions. Weaker market communities with smaller populations, usually located in rural areas, have been overlooked more often than not.
Both Gubernatorial Candidates have stated that JobsOhio will evolve under their Administration; the governing board of the program was designed to transition with the governor as the majority of the board will be appointed by Ohio’s next governor. GOPC suggests ways to make this important organization even stronger under the next Administration.
In short: Focus on building vibrant communities as much as traditional job attraction incentives.
Like Ohio, Michigan has faced challenges of creating job in an environment where populations are flatlining (or declining) and communities are experiencing transitions in their legacy industries. Cities in Massachusetts, outside of the Boston metro, also face similar challenges of population stagnation and uneven economic growth.
JobsOhio’s peers, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and the Massachusetts Economic Development & Finance Agency (MassDev), take comprehensive approaches to economic development, meaning they recognize the physical environment (“place”) is just as important to a company as tax incentives and workforce readiness.
In the next iteration of JobsOhio, the agency can bring to bear its incredible tools—such as their strong marketing platform, the ability to coordinate across state agencies to fast-track projects through regulations, and access to incentive packages—on a broader range of investments that support community development and “placemaking” as economic development tools.
In doing so, not only will JobsOhio help create vibrant places where companies and employees will want to locate, but more Ohio communities will benefit from an agency that understands that the quality of place is just as important as competitive tax incentives.
Programs that would create strong communities that retain and attract workers in Ohio:
- MI’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program—a certification program that guides communities through redevelopment; once certified they are prioritized on MEDC’s site selection list and are known to developers and businesses as being prepared to accept new investment
- MA’s Transformative Development Initiative—a program open only to economically distressed communities. MA funds a state employee (a “TDI Fellow”) to help a community plan a redevelopment area (usually downtown or a mixed use commercial corridor) and bring together the appropriate state funding and financing programs to make it happen, as well as the local ordinances and matching dollars
- State matches on locally raised dollars for a redevelopment program: MA’s Commonwealth Places, MI’s Public Spaces Community Places
- Technical Assistance to communities that are ready to write strategic and community plans for their future. (MA’s TA is offered as a standalone ala carte programs, MI’s TA is done through the Redevelopment Ready Communities program)
One of GOPC’s longstanding concerns is the slowdown of brownfield remediation in Ohio. These environmentally contaminated sites hold latent opportunities that, when unlocked, not only remove major eyesores in Ohio’s communities, but also productively reposition large parcels of land for new, tax-generating uses. JobsOhio’s Revitalization Fund and its Redevelopment Pilot Program have been important tools for remediating brownfields. However, JobsOhio’s laser focus on job creation has narrowed the types of projects eligible for funding to mostly industrial end-users.
GOPC has long held that Ohio needs a brownfields remediation program that considers projects with a range of end uses, including residential, retail, mixed-use, greenspace, and industrial. The brownfield remediation programs managed by MEDC and MassDev are flexible in these ways in order to help communities create the vibrant places companies and workers want to live.
As the candidates consider how JobsOhio might operate under their Administration, looking to the successes of Michigan and Massachusetts points to the importance of investing in place to create the environment for growing, stable business and employees.