Lawmaker Blasts JobsOhio For Ignoring Southeast Ohio

Sep 20, 2019

A Southeast Ohio lawmaker has taken to Twitter to blast JobsOhio, the state’s non-profit economic development company, for not helping his region enough. His criticisms have prompted a response from supporters of the agency, who are standing firm.

Over the last few weeks, state Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) has tweeted about JobsOhio nearly 40 times. For instance, he writes that it invested $140 million in 188 projects last year, but that southeast Appalachian Ohio got less than 4% of that.

“We’re not even getting our fair share," Edwards said. 

Edwards also said more jobs have been created for JobsOhio than for his district – and while he’s not sure, he suspects politics are to blame.

“There’s been investments into basically political agencies, economic development arms that created no jobs, just for them to build new facilities,” Edwards said. “There’s been money put into the RNC, the Republican National Convention, which I know stimulated the economy in Cleveland, but I don’t think it created a ton of jobs that are still there today.”

“There’s been something put out for $10 million for the DNC to Columbus,” Edwards added, referring to money pledged in 2015 to the effort to bring the following year’s Democratic National Convention to the capital city.

Edwards is especially concerned when he looks at the stats. Two counties he represents – Athens and Meigs – have jobless rates more than 50% higher than the state’s rate. And more than 25% of his constituents are in poverty, compared to just under 17% for the rest of the state, according to fact sheets compiled by the Center for Community Solutions.

“That’s the part that’s alarming to me, and I don’t know how to do anything about it because really, the state, it’s been set up in such a way that the state legislature doesn’t have a lot of control over what JobsOhio does,” Edwards said.

As Edwards hints, that’s by design.

When JobsOhio was proposed by former Gov. John Kasich in 2011, he intended to replace the Department of Development with an entity that would move quickly to create and retain economic activity. It was backed by money from liquor sales, which JobsOhio leased from the state for $1.4 billion.

JobsOhio operates as a private non-profit company. It’s reviewed annually by a private third-party auditor instead of the state auditor.

But over time, concerns have been raised that those audits don’t give a comprehensive overview of JobsOhio, where its 39 employees made an average of $100,000 and got an average 18% raise last year. Former president and CIO John Minor’s salary was more than $621,000.

JobsOhio claims it worked with companies to create more than 27,000 new jobs and $1.3 billion in payroll last year.

Gov. Mike DeWine promised during his campaign last year to make JobsOhio more transparent. He said he’s changing its culture with his appointments, and has asked for salary information to be released.

But DeWine said earlier this month that he’s not done.

“One of my charges to JobsOhio is to increase the amount of investment we're making in areas, frankly, outside the three C's – outside Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati – to make sure we're covering the rest of that state,” DeWine said.

DeWine said he wants JobsOhio to work with local communities, especially in rural areas, to help them make more viable offers to lure in business.

The first JobsOhio chief, Mark Kvamme, now perhaps Ohio’s most prominent venture capitalist – and he’s still a fan of the organization. Kvamme says it’s wrong to focus on transparency and politics.

“Never forget: One of the reasons why we set it up the way we set it up is, the best time to invest is during a recession,” Kvamme said. “So should there be a recession in 18-24 months, JobsOhio will have the financial resources to attract the best and brightest from all around, where all the other state governments will have nothing because when you have a recession, tax dollars go down and you can’t do anything.”

Kvamme urges patience to see the full results of JobsOhio’s work.

“We’re halfway through the first inning,” he says. “Let’s wait a couple more innings.”

In a written response to Edwards’ concerns, current JobsOhio president and CIO J.P. Nauseef said it’s clear Southeast Ohio has struggled economically and that more needs to be done.

“Regions across the state and across the country are most successful in economic development when there is close collaboration with all partners, including elected officials,” Nauseef wrote. “We welcome input from all parties as it will take a holistic approach over the long term to lift the region.”