The details of Ohio’s new job-development strategy began to emerge last week. Officials in the Kasich administration described how the governor’s new private, nonprofit agency, JobsOhio, will work with regional economic development organizations and a restructured state Department of Development. Legislation needed to implement the strategy will be introduced in the fall.
Led by Mark Kvamme, a successful Silicon Valley venture capitalist, JobsOhio will take over the job-creation duties of the Department of Development, which will be downsized and renamed the Development Services Agency. Kasich and Kvamme envision JobsOhio moving more quickly and aggressively, unencumbered by statutes requiring the development department to disclose the details about negotiations with private companies.
With Ohio’s unemployment rate rising, at 9 percent in July, Kvamme has made clear the No. 1 measurement of success will be job creation. In effect, the Kasich team has promised that it knows how to deliver on the theme it made the centerpiece of its campaign.
Still, substantial questions remain. Moving forward, the speed and freedom of JobsOhio must be balanced by transparency and accountability, necessary to protect the interests of taxpayers and to guard against insider deals.
Although JobsOhio will raise private capital and have a funding stream from state liquor profits, the deals it hopes to hatch also involve public money, state loans, grants and tax incentives. It is crucial that the new Development Services Agency have a detailed contract with JobsOhio and maintain final approval of incentive funds, as discussed by Christiane Schmenk, the state’s development director.
The problem is, in creating JobsOhio, the legislature unwisely decided against full compliance with laws involving open records, open meetings and ethics, issuing an invitation to corrupting ways. The contract between the revamped development agency and JobsOhio must function to provide a clear picture of what the private, nonprofit is doing.
JobsOhio also will work with six regional economic development agencies (among them, Team NEO in Northeast Ohio) and the high-tech Third Frontier program. As much as Kasich and Kvamme want JobsOhio to move “at the speed of the market,” it must function within a network of existing agencies and programs that represent the government’s traditional role in economic development.
So, a potential pitfall looms: By attaching another element in implementing the state’s economic development strategy, JobsOhio risks complicating rather than clarifying matters, adding a layer to the decision-making process.
JobsOhio was created with a sense of urgency, the initial legislation privatizing job creation moving quickly to passage. This fall, legislators must look carefully at questions of oversight, accountability and performance, all leftover business from earlier this year.