Politics & Policy

Ted Strickland’s Rusty Vision

Democrats are at War with Ohio Industry

In Tuesday’s first-round Ohio gubernatorial debate, Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland emphasized his jobs agenda and held up the Ohio Department of Development as an outstanding example of government working to create employment and opportunity. At the same time, he mocked Republican challenger John Kasich’s proposal to privatize the agency, calling the plan unaffordable and dismissing it as an expression of “Wall Street values.”

Notwithstanding the Democratic party’s domination by Goldman Sachs alumni and other creatures of high finance, “Wall Street” has been a favorite theme of Strickland’s, a jab at Kasich’s former career as Lehman Brothers’ man in Columbus. “I’m not sure we can afford the salary you’re used to,” he joked.

What Ohio can’t afford is more abuse from Strickland’s party. At the national level, the Democratic economic agenda is set by Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, whose fantasies about green jobs and hostility to trade are doing no favors to struggling Rust Belt economies. Meanwhile, Strickland’s own program is fundamentally at loggerheads with the economic-development strategy currently being pursued by the very Ohio Department of Development the governor was so eager to praise.

Currently, the department works from a model that emphasizes the comparative advantages of Ohio’s major cities by designating them “centers of excellence” or “hubs” of various industries. So far, seven such hubs have been named, the most recent being Columbus, which was designated the Ohio Hub of Advanced Energy Manufacturing and Storage. The other centers are the Youngstown Entrepreneurial Hub of Advanced Materials Commercialization and Software Development, the Akron Biomaterials Commercialization Hub, the Cincinnati Consumer Marketing Hub of Innovation, the Toledo Northwest Ohio Solar Energy Innovation Hub, the Cleveland Health and Technology Corridor Hub, and the Ohio Aerospace Hub in Dayton.  

Without exception, every single one of the industries attached to these “hubs” has been handicapped or soon will be handicapped by either the Democratic legislative agenda or Strickland’s own actions. Take the Columbus hub’s industry — energy marketing and storage, which in Ohio means coal — and consider the following: The cap-and-trade bill passed by the House and currently being debated by the Senate would increase utility bills by 40 percent, thus driving down energy consumption and no doubt taking down a bunch of jobs in Columbus, too. Strickland’s key transportation initiative — the creation of passenger rail through Ohio, using federal stimulus dollars — would handicap the ability of the Columbus hub to efficiently transport coal because of all the traffic backups caused by passenger trains running at 39 miles per hour on otherwise world-class freight railways.  

So much for energy marketing and storage.  

What about advanced-materials commercialization in Youngstown? Again, the rising energy costs that would be inflicted by cap and trade would render the city’s struggling steel industry even less competitive globally, especially considering that competitors operating in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) would be able to evade the carbon-emissions standards imposed on developed nations. Given that China is already the world’s leading steel producer, with India’s Mittal making strides, it is Democratic policy, not corporate greed, that threatens to ship Ohio jobs overseas. The same thing goes for biomaterials in Akron, where American research could easily create critical new technology while high domestic energy costs ensure that many of the new manufacturing jobs would be created not in Ohio but abroad. Likewise, China’s comparative advantage in solar power is already tremendous, and the subsidies that the Obama administration wants to hand out to the industry will not be sufficient to offset the rising energy and regulatory costs that would disadvantage Toledo. 

That’s four hobbled Ohio industries thus far, with only one Democratic bill.  

Beyond cap and trade, the rest of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda spells trouble for Ohio’s critical industries. Cleveland’s health-technology hub will take a hit from the 3 percent tax on medical-device manufacturing introduced in the recently passed health-care bill, while Cincinnati’s consumer-marketing hub would have its effectiveness diminished by the higher taxes that Democrats propose, with local giant Procter & Gamble particularly vulnerable to Democratic attempts to tighten the tax rules on foreign earnings. Finally, there is aerospace in Dayton, an industry threatened by the defense-spending cuts that the ideological Left seeks regardless of real-world national-security needs.  

It’s not clear how much more Democratic economic-development help Ohio can stand — or afford.    

– Mytheos Holt writes about Ohio at National Review Online’s Battle ’10 blog.

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