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Development director: Ohio has great potential for attracting new businesses
The head of the newly created JobsOhio wants to make one thing clear – the Department of Development is not going to be eliminated.
“We’re not eliminating a 400-person department,” said Mark Kvamme, who heads up both the development department and JobsOhio, a new public-private development corporation. “We’ll take the key economic development capabilities (of the department) and move them to JobsOhio.”
Gov. John Kasich brought Kvamme, a venture capitalist from California, in to Ohio to lead the state’s development efforts for a salary of $1 per year. The two have been friends for about 15 years. Kvamme said one of his life’s goals was to help 1 million people. Kasich lured him in by asking “How about helping 11.5 million people,” Kvamme said during a recent Town Hall Ohio radio show.
The Department of Development has changed a lot since its creation 50 years ago by the late Gov. Jim Rhodes, he said. Today it is much more than job creation and economic growth and includes programs such as heat assistance and small business administration. He said that of the $1.3 billion budget, only a couple of hundred million dollars goes to economic development and job creation/retention.
“Job creation is everything,” he said on the radio show. “If you have a vibrant economy, everybody wins from the farmers all the way up to the technician doing IT work. We need to focus on that and that’s why we created JobsOhio.”
Before focusing on new business to Ohio, the state needs to retain and grow the jobs it already has, he said. After that is accomplished, then the state can work at picking a “world-class team to focus on job creation in Ohio,” he said. The potential for attracting new businesses is huge, he said, noting that Ohio is located within 600 miles of 60 percent of the U.S. population.
“Time to market matters and where you make it matters,” he said. “It’s about location and a skilled work force and you have these two amazing assets that you don’t find anywhere else in the world.”
Ohio needs to pick half a dozen businesses it can potentially attract and focus on bringing them here, Kvamme said. He praised the state’s polymer and agribusiness industries, saying they had great potential for growth.
“I got a call the other day from Denmark. They were looking for advanced feedstock for animals using a soybean enzyme,” he said. “What I liked about that was it utilized everything about Ohio: our capability for getting a product to market and our manufacturing capability” of a high-tech nature.
Creating a strong public-private partnership is key to the success of stimulating Ohio’s economy, Kvamme said. An example he cited was First Solar, a leading manufacturer of solar panels that built its first factory in Ohio.
“The Department of Development loaned them $20 million to help with the first plans. If we would have taken a small interest at that time, it would now be worth $130 million to $150 million that could be invested back in Ohio,” he said.One area holding back Ohio’s economic growth is the regulatory requirements, he said.
“For farmers, it’s a tough business. Why should they have to be filling out 27 forms for this and that and all the other things? That makes their work even harder. How can we remove those hurdles to make them even more successful,” he said.
Pointing out the success of Silicon Valley, Kvamme said the state needs to take more risks with businesses.
“We need to embrace the idea that it’s OK to have calculated risk and sometimes fail. If you don’t step up to the plate and try, you’re going to lose,” he said. “It’s like the farmer. You have to sit down and figure out which crop to do. It’s a risk to plant a crop but if you don’t take the risk of planting the crop, you aren’t going to harvest anything.”
Photo by Seth Teter