A southeast Ohio lawmaker has taken to Twitter to blast the state’s non-profit economic development company for not helping his region enough. But supporters of JobsOhio are standing firmly behind it.
“We’re not even getting our fair share," said Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) of JobsOhio.
Over the last few weeks, Edwards has tweeted about JobsOhio nearly 40 times. For instance, he writes that it invested $140 million in 188 projects last year, but that southeast Appalachian Ohio got less than four percent of that.
Edwards also said more jobs have been created for JobsOhio than for his district – and while he’s not sure, he suspects politics are to blame.
“There’s been investments into basically political agencies, economic development arms that created no jobs, just for them to build new facilities. There’s been money put into the RNC, the Republican National Convention, which I know stimulated the economy in Cleveland, but I don’t think it created a ton of jobs that are still there today. There’s been something put out for $10 million for the DNC to Columbus,” Edwards said, referring to money pledged in 2015 to the effort to bring the following year’s Democratic National Convention to the capital city.
Edwards is especially concerned when he looks at the stats. Two counties he represents – Athens and Meigs – have jobless rates that are more than 50 percent higher than the state’s rate. And more than 25 percent of his constituents are in poverty, compared to just under 17 percent for the rest of the state, according to fact sheets compiled by the Center for Community Solutions.
“That’s the part that’s alarming to me and I don’t know how to do anything about it because really, the state, it’s been set up in such a way that the state legislature doesn’t have a lot of control over what JobsOhio does,” Edwards said.
And as Edwards hints, that’s by design.
When JobsOhio was proposed by former Gov. John Kasich in 2011, he intended to replace the Department of Development with an entity that would move quickly to create and retain economic activity. It was backed by money from liquor sales, which JobsOhio leased from the state for $1.4 billion.
JobsOhio operates as a private non-profit company, and is reviewed annually by a private third party auditor, not the state auditor. But over time, there’s been concern that those audits don’t give a comprehensive overview of JobsOhio, where its 39 employees made an average of $100,000, and got an average 18 percent raise last year. Former president and CIO John Minor’s salary was more than $621,000.
JobsOhio claims it worked with companies to create more than 27,000 new jobs and $1.3 billion in payroll last year.
Gov. Mike DeWine promised during his campaign last year to make JobsOhio more transparent. He said he’s changing its culture with his appointments, and has asked for salary information to be released. But he said earlier this month he’s not done.
“One of my charges to JobsOhio is to increase the amount of investment we're making in areas, frankly, outside the three C's – outside Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati – to make sure we're covering the rest of that state,” DeWine said.
And DeWine said he wants JobsOhio to work with local communities, especially in rural areas, to help them make more viable offers to lure in business.
The first JobsOhio chief is now perhaps Ohio’s most prominent venture capitalist – and he’s still a fan of JobsOhio. Mark Kvamme says it’s wrong to focus on transparency and politics.
“Never forget – one of the reasons why we set it up the way we set it up is, the best time to invest is during a recession. So should there be a recession in 18-24 months, JobsOhio will have the financial resources to attract the best and brightest from all around, where all the other state governments will have nothing because when you have a recession, tax dollars go down and you can’t do anything,” Kvamme said. “We’re halfway through the first inning. Let’s wait a couple more innings.”
In a written response to Rep. Jay Edwards’ concerns, JobsOhio President and CIO J.P. Nauseef said it’s clear southeast Ohio has struggled economically and that more needs to be done.
He also writes: “Regions across the state and across the country are most successful in economic development when there is close collaboration with all partners, including elected officials. We welcome input from all parties as it will take a holistic approach over the long term to lift the region.”