By Timothy Cox
Bruce Johnson, the director of the Ohio Department of Development, told a group of area government officials Thursday that he believes the state's economy is turning around.
"In terms of economic growth and prosperity, this economy has turned the corner and begun to thrive," Johnson told the group gathered in Celina for the first Local Government Summit put together by state Rep. Keith Faber, R-Celina.
There are a number of indicators that show the economy is on the upswing, Johnson said.
Business profits are up 25 percent through the first part of this year and average household income is higher than it has been since 2000, he said. A survey of company CEOs shows 50 percent of them plan to hire new employees this year, Johnson said. Last year, that figure was just 15 percent.
Johnson also talked about his approach to running the development department and also offered the highest praise to local workers. A capable, available workforce is one of the state's best resources to spur development, Johnson said. West Central Ohio boasts one of the best workforces anywhere, he said.
"West Central Ohio has one of the best workforces in the world. They are more productive and more capable than can be found anywhere. Over time, we can prove that," Johnson said.
ODOD's role is not to directly create jobs, but to facilitate job creation in business and industry, Johnson said. That means creating a business environment that can compete with neighboring state's.
Among the keys to boosting the state's economy is raising per capita income among residents, Johnson said. In 1940, Ohioans had incomes that were about 110 percent of the national average. By 1970, incomes had been reduced to about the national average. Today, incomes run about 90 percent of the national average.
The average Ohioan earns $29,405 while the national average is $30,941. The difference seems small but when calculated over the state's population, it translates to $17.5 billion dollars less for Ohio residents, including $1.8 billion in reduced revenue to the state through taxes.
Keys to improving the situation are investing in technology, improving new product innovation among existing companies and transforming large amounts of available research into economic returns, Johnson said. State leaders must also do a better job of marketing the state, he said.
To make his vision work, Johnson said it is essential that Ohio counties, cities, villages and townships work together through regional cooperation. They must see themselves as competing against other states, not against each other, he said.
"They have to see how new development helps all of us grow," he said.