When voters extended the state’s Third Frontier program in 2010, ballot language called for “continued funding … for research and development in support of Ohio industry, commerce and business.” The goal struck a chord, the state suffering from double-digit unemployment. Worth noting, too, is that Republicans insisted on precise wording about using the money, stressing independent review and full disclosure.

Lately, the sense of urgency that propelled the Third Frontier issue campaign has waned, along with the openness Republicans once demanded. With next month’s deadline for the program’s fiscal year approaching, only a small portion ($24 million) of an available $190 million for promising new projects and technologies has been allocated.

A Third Frontier commission meeting last week with its advisory board, made up of business, academic and scientific leaders, was the first since October, all this amid continuing signals from John Kasich that the Republican governor is contemplating a change of direction, with more emphasis on loans and job development.

The governor’s commitment has been unsteady at times. Last year, he rerouted $14 million of Third Frontier money to six regional economic development operations, part of JobsOhio, the private entity now in charge of job creation. Small, early stage high-tech firms that have benefited from Third Frontier grants understandably are worried about future funding.

The commission last week promised a more open process, and to award more grants and loans at its June meeting. Any remaining money will be rolled over into the next fiscal year.

Kasich, through the creation of JobsOhio, clearly is determined to put his stamp on the state’s job-creation efforts. Yet when it comes to changing the Third Frontier program, caution is in order, as is better communication with the program’s well-experienced advisory board.

In renewing the Third Frontier, voters did express a strong concern with creating jobs. Yet from the beginning, the Third Frontier’s activities have been about more than just boosting employment in the short run. The essential thrust of the program, its modest funds playing the role of catalyst, has been about moving Ohio into a knowledge-based economy, a difficult transition in a state long known for heavy manufacturing.

Changing what the Third Frontier program funds and how funding is dispersed must be worked out in the open, with the advisory board playing an important role, bringing its broad expertise to bear. While that happens, there is no reason to hold back on spending available funds. Ohio waited long enough to start investing in a more prosperous future.