Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Suggestions for JobsOhio

I was sought out by a management consulting firm hired by JobsOhio to comment on the impact of JobsOhio and the regional groups it has partnered with to deliver Ohio's economic development services.  I consider myself fortunate to get to respond and the bulk of my comments were positive. 

I focused my half hour of input on how to make the economic development of our great state better.  I don't think it's fair I share everything I said, but I did have three key points.

1. Increase the focus on manufacturing.  Too little staffing of this new statewide program is focused on manufacturing.  The next hire JobsOhio makes should be someone with a true manufacturing background to help give the agency a perspective on the industry and align themselves more with that industry.

Manufacturing has been part of our past, is part of our present, and is a huge part of our future in Ohio if we act strategically to seek it out.

I complemented Columbus2020 for bringing prospects to visit our sites in Heath.  That's something no predecessor regional group had ever, ever done.

2. Set up systems to overcome tunnel vision on urban areas versus suburban.  JobsOhio has insulated itself from the suburbs by partnering with regional groups that are, but for one, headquartered in large, urban centers.  Though the propping up of regions by JobsOhio has given them new reasons to be truly regional and, at least in Central Ohio, that has worked, there need to be systems of accountability in place to ensure that all of Ohio's places with the sites, buildings, and workforce get a level playing field. 

It's not about fairness.  That's not the point.  It's about winning more deals, more investment, and more jobs.

As I've written before, it was Ohio's suburbs that saw 93% in 2012 and 94% in 2011 of the state's manufacturing projects reported to Site Selection magazine for the prestigious Governor's Cup.  Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati combined to achieve $0 of the largest projects in 2012.  There's a mismatch between JobsOhio contact with where the vast majority of the deals that are best for Ohio are actually happening.

When the boards and investors are made-up of people who don't know manufacturing and don't know someone who knows manufacturing, they, naturally, can get tunnel vision.  Yet, the majority of prospects and the majority of future, worthwhile state projects are going to come from manufacturers.  Of that, there can be little doubt.

The state needs to be demanding that regional groups that are getting state funding are truly regional in there approach with Board representation from a true, regional cross section.  They need to set up metrics that show people are physically visiting the regional counties that they claim to represent.  They need to monitor to make sure regional groups are equipped to be responsive to manufacturers as manufacturing makes up of most of Ohio's economic development leads.  These are just a few examples.

3. Give statewide attention to emerging industries.  There appears to be a pattern to pick winners and losers, by region, for emerging industries.  That gives away the statewide perspective that a statewide group like JobsOhio can enjoy.

In the past couple of years, I worked with a prospect company which indicated they saw three different regions in Ohio able to supply what was needed to make a potential emerging industry project work.  Instead, the state-subsidized regions went about trying to show the company how they alone in their region could win the whole deal.  The deal was lost.

Another example:  I'm a believer in Ohio's ability to marry its aerospace and automotive prowess to be the leader in the driverless car of the future.  Ohio has the potential to be a leader, but we are lagging in legislation, policy, and coalition-building to realize that potential.  The assets for that capability are not found in any single region of the state so it can't be merely turned over to someone else to do.  A statewide approach is called for in this case for sure.

This is true of many emerging industries--UAV's, fuel cells, nanomaterial, biomedical, etc.  Ohio has vast resources and capabilities, but they often aren't inherit in only one region in Ohio.  The state needs to be there to make sure a whole-state perspective is taken on going after emerging industries instead of just leaving it to one region to the take the lead at the expense of telling the complete story to a prospect.

The bottom line:  It's all about growing the pie so everyone gets a bigger piece instead of letting regions fight for their piece of a shrinking pie.

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