The Ghosts Haunting America's Factories and Offices

I attended a campaign-related event for GOP gubernatorial candidate John Kasich on Tuesday. I came away both impressed and very concerned.

I was impressed with how well the event was organized, the quality of the discussion, and the passion of those who participated. I am deeply worried that the ghosts haunting these and other events will continue to work against my state’s economic success, even if (or especially if) a strong leader with an “R” by his name takes charge.

Kasich’s Mason, Ohio, business forum on the floor of a robotics facility had former Florida Governor Jeb Bush as a special guest. Six top executives of Ohio firms and facilities were also on the panel. The meeting’s goal was to help everyone in the room, including an audience of about 300 business and political leaders, understand what can and should be done to end Ohio’s economic doldrums.

Considering the results his state achieved, there may not be a better person to give a state’s would-be leader and key businesspeople meaningful guidance on how to revive their economies than Jeb Bush. Kasich let the audience know that while Bush presided over the Sunshine State from 1999 to 2007, it turned in the second-best performance in the country in jobs created and eighth-best in income growth. Even though Florida has about six percent of the nation’s population, during a five-year period early last decade it alone accounted for one-third of the nation’s job growth.

Later, one of the execs on the panel recited some of the awful elements of Ohio’s record. Since 2001, Ohio has lost 500,000 jobs; 170,000 of them have gone away in the past year. Forbes rates it 48th in economic growth prospects. The state ranks 46th (i.e., fifth-worst) in its personal bankruptcy rate, 49th in foreclosures, 42nd in unemployment, and 47th in business tax climate. Kasich accurately told the audience that to deal with an $850 million shortfall, current Governor Ted Strickland and Ohio’s legislature had “just raised taxes again and declared victory.” Oh, and they called it a “tax cut delay.” It seems that almost no one inside Columbus’s I-270 beltway gets it.

Bush pointed to these elements as part of his formula for success:

  • “We demanded that personal income … had to grow faster than government spending.”
  • “We crafted workers’ comp for significant savings.” Ohio is one of only a few states nutty enough not to let the private sector handle this critical area.
  • He resisted the pleas of “lots of businesspeople [who] put their hands out.”

Bush had three other key observations that led to my concerns. First, he spoke of the importance of transparency and clarity, and how their presence is positive and self-fulfilling. He observed how important minimizing uncertainty is to a healthy and growing business climate. Finally, when asked how he dealt with energy and environmental issues during his eight years in office, he said, “Not well, unfortunately. We couldn’t get past the barriers.”