During a recent year-in-review appearance at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, John Kasich replayed his “headwinds” argument to explain the lagging state economy. The governor pointed to the dysfunction in Washington acting as a drag on Ohio. Yet the national economy expanded 4 percent in the third quarter, or at a much better clip than the state. The national unemployment rate not too long ago exceeded the rate here. That has reversed, Ohio at 7.4 percent, the country at 7 percent.
Somehow other states are delivering stronger performances, even in a weak recovery.
Part of the trouble facing the governor results from his own actions. If he has closed a huge budget hole and launched initiatives, from the third-grade reading guarantee to JobsOhio, he also celebrated early, when Washington was no less troubled, declaring on his watch mounting interest in a “miracle” here.
The governor and his team point to nearly 175,000 private-sector jobs created the past three years. Yet Regionomics, a Columbus consulting firm, puts Ohio 30th among the states in that category, and 38th when adding the factor of job reductions in the public sector. More, there has been a sharp slowing the past year of momentum, the state adding a mere 19,800 jobs.
No question, Ohio Democrats have leaped to take advantage of the gap between the governor’s boasts and the actual numbers. They can argue, credibly, that of the jobs regained since the recession, roughly half track with Ted Strickland’s time in the governor’s office.
What Ohioans should keep front and center as the campaign debate takes shape are the familiar factors at work. The sluggish state economy reflects, in part, slow population growth. If manufacturing jobs did bounce back, that was due to the auto bailout and other beneficial changes in the industry. What remains is the inescapable march of automation, or producing more manufactured goods with fewer workers.
What, then, must Ohio do? The governor promises more tax cuts, yet nearly a decade has passed since his Republican allies started slashing taxes, and the state has had one of the worst growth rates in the nation. For their part, Democrats hardly have offered a coherent way forward. Long apparent has been what works, according to evidence gathered by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and others, an enduring commitment to improving the work force at all levels and pursuing innovation. Then add expanding exports and embracing immigrants.
If there has been some progress on these fronts in recent years, Team NEO this week citing an increase in exports from Northeast Ohio, the advances have not been enough. Which party or candidate will take the lead?