By Amy Higgins
The Cincinnati Enquirer
In the last four years, some 141,600 jobs were created in Ohio.
But don't try telling a factory worker - or a northern Ohio Democrat - that the economy is improving. Each of those new jobs was added to the service-industry payrolls, with 107,300 manufacturing or other such goods-producing jobs disappearing since 1998.
"Ohio's current economic development policies are clearly failing," Democratic gubernatorial challenger Tim Hagan says in his plan to revive the struggling economy. "As Ohio chased smokestacks and offered subsidies to any business that threatened to leave Ohio throughout the 1990s, the rest of the nation invested in the jobs and entrepreneurs of the future."
Total U.S. employment grew 3.4 percent from 1998 to 2002. During those four years since Gov. Bob Taft took office, Ohio's total employment grew just 0.6 percent - or a net 34,300 jobs.
And if Ohioans vote for their governor based on job growth, then traditionally Democratic northern Ohio will have another reason not to send Mr. Taft back to Columbus. Youngstown and Cleveland lost more jobs than any other Ohio city in the last four years, according to the state Labor Market Information office.
Gov. Bob Taft's economic accomplishments:|
Third Frontier Project: A $1.6 billion economic development program to create more high-paying jobs through information and technology. This has been proposed and minimally funded.
Ohio Investment: Created or retained more than 95,000 jobs through 625 economic development projects.
Reducing the inventory tax: Phasing out of the business inventory tax to help make Ohio companies more competitive.
Training Ohio workers: More than 90,000 Ohio workers received job training with $50 million in training grants given to 575 Ohio companies.
Challenger Tim Hagan's economic plan:
Strong workforce: Increase training and education, in part by tapping into the unspent federal workforce investment funds.
Tax fairness: Look at innovative ways to raise revenue in fairer ways than Ohio now uses, such as the property tax.
Strategic investment: Make public investment in forward-looking technologies and industries, such as business incubators, small business supports and state infrastructure to leverage private investment to further encourage businesses to stay and grow in Ohio.
Northern Ohio's job losses were almost all in manufacturing, as the three-decade trend of shrinking manufacturing employment seemed to accelerate in recent years. Factories that were once the backbone of a Great Lakes economy strained under the pressure of lower demand and cheaper foreign imports.
Traditionally Republican southern Ohio, meanwhile, has less reason to be unhappy with Mr. Taft's economic development policies. Despite headline-making cutbacks, Cincinnati and Columbus topped the list of job-creators in Ohio during the last four years.
"We're an economy in transition in Ohio," said Mr. Taft in his latest campaign commercial. "Some of our older smokestack industries have been very challenged in the world economy."
3,700 jobs were eliminated when steel-maker LTV Corp. filed for bankruptcy and shuttered plants in northern Ohio.
800 workers at GE Aircraft Engines in Evendale were furloughed.
200 employees were laid off in March when the Cincinnati Gear Co. in Mariemont, struggling in the weak economy, closed its doors.
"Twenty years ago, machine jobs - manufacturing jobs - were good-paying jobs," said Joe Rennekamp, who had been at Cincinnati Gear almost 26 years. "Now, there's no jobs around - and what is there, no one wants to pay anything for."
Indeed, most nonsupervisory manufacturing jobs pay more than comparable service jobs in Ohio - even though Ohio's factory workers have gotten only one-third the pay increases in the last four years that national factory workers have. Manufacturing jobs in Ohio pay on average 4.3 percent more than they did 1998 - while the national increase is 12.8 percent.
To help people like Mr. Rennekamp, Mr. Taft has proposed state-backed assistance and vocational training to help teach them "new skills that will allow them to prosper."
Mr. Taft has proposed the Third Frontier - a 10-year plan to pump $1.6 billion into high-tech research facilities and companies in order to create more high-paying jobs.
Mr. Hagan calls Mr. Taft's plans too little too late. Yet, his plan reads remarkably like Mr. Taft's: starting with worker retraining and investment in technology-based industries.
"Ohio must replicate the success of other states in the region to encourage businesses to stay and grow in the state," Mr. Hagan says in campaign materials. "There's no magic to economic development in the state; it takes just what a small business takes to succeed: hard work, determination and leadership."
Despite manufacturing employment cuts coming under Mr. Taft's watch, the factors causing them transcend both the state's borders and his four-year tenure. Factors leading to the bulk of Ohio's factory job losses stem back decades.
"Productivity growth," said Ken Mayland, president of Clearview Economics in suburban Cleveland. "Producing more with less people, less labor input."
Indeed, in the 30 years that Ohio factory jobs fell by one-third, factory output has roughly tripled. Manufacturing still constitutes about 24 percent of all goods and services produced in Ohio. Factories are just being more efficient.
"Productivity growth in the manufacturing sector has been 4 to 5 percent - that means they are producing the same amount of goods with 4 percent fewer workers year after year after year," Mr. Mayland said. "The drop in manufacturing jobs does not mean that manufacturing has become less important to the economy."
Labor officials, however, point to another reason factory jobs are disappearing: International trade agreements making foreign imports and labor less expensive.
Layoffs and cutbacks continue to span Ohio's economy. Statewide unemployment currently sits at 5.5 percent, up from 4.2 percent four years ago.
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