Tuesday, November 28, 2006

 

Fisher to oversee Ohio economic efforts

We think this is a good move on Strickland's part, and although it appears at first to just be a repeat of Taft's appointment of Bruce Johnson to head the DOD, it's not.

Johnson, for starters, never showed any particular finesse for economic development. Johnson' background was that he was a political insider who had worked as a corporate hired gun in one of the uber insider law firms, Chester Wilcox Saxbe. Johnson also worked as COS for former Columbus mayor Greg Lashutka (keep in mind that the high point of economic development under Lashustka was the opening of the now-deserted City Center Mall). Johnson, also served as a state senator on the Ways and Means committee.

But being a corporate lawyer, or a political staffer or a committee member tinkering with state taxes doesn't really help one understand anything about real economic development. As a matter of fact, we believe Johnson's background actually hurt him, and gave him a very narrow view of "what's wrong in Ohio."

Ideologically, Johnson was shackled with a trickle-down view of economics and a blind faith in the marketplace.

Worse, Johnson has absolutely no sense of economic strategy and in his world, unfortunately, that's great, because the marketplace will take care of that. All government has to do is prime the pump and urge the pigs to come drink at the trough.

Likewise, Johnson saw little value in developing broad relationships with stakeholders and partners. Little was done to bring together both business and labor groups. There was no outreach to the broad spectrum of economic think tanks around Ohio and the nation. And far too little was done to bring together and unleash the wealth of knowledge in Ohio's universities and academic institutions.

Thus, Johnson did little more than be the cheerleader for inane, silly initiatives like the Third Frontier, corporate tax overhauls, venture capital confabs and expensive "market Ohio" efforts.

And what did that get Ohio? Bupkus in regard to jobs. Unfortunately, Johnson's doofus approach also drove a lot of wedges between stakeholders.

As we have written in the past, Ohio's economic problems can't be solved with "better marketing" or "better access to investment capital" or "fewer taxes." Only simpletons, reporters and Republican ideologues buy into this crap.

Lee Fisher, on the other hand, is no slam dunk for success, but he gives us reason for optimism. Although a lot of people associate Fisher with being a legislator and attorney general, he has some decent management cred. Under his guidance, the Center for Families and Children had developed a reputation for results and well-run operations. Fisher also spent time on the Board of Directors of two publicly-traded companies, REX stores and OfficeMax.

Of course, running the AG's office is no easy task either. Skeptics may try to blow this off, but Fisher took the job seriously enough that he enrolled and partcipated in several senior management programs offered to executives at Harvard and the Weatherhead SoB at Case Western.

Fisher also seems to pride himself in being able to reach across broad spectrums of constiuencies to achieve specific goals.

Taxpayers clearly are demanding that something be done about Ohio's economic direction. This will be a tough job for even the best candidate, and we don't envy Fisher in this regard. The good news is that he can't really do any worse than his predecessors from the prior 16 years. But there are plenty of people in Ohio with some very, very good strategic concepts about economic development that can be tapped - if the political will is really there.

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