The economy is booming for some people, but Ohio still has a serious skills gap, wages are stagnant for many workers and there are concerns the state isn’t poised to attract high-tech jobs now and into the future.
Each of the candidates for governor is heavily focused on bringing good-paying jobs to Ohio and growing the jobs that are already here, though they differ on how to get there.
This election season the Dayton Daily News is examining the platforms of the governor candidates so voters are better informed when they go to the polls. Today’s focus — jobs and the economy — comes just nine days before Election Day.
With Republican Gov. John Kasich leaving office after eight years, voters can choose between four candidates for governor: Democrat Richard Cordray, Republican Mike DeWine, Libertarian Travis Irvine and Green Party candidate Constance Gadell-Newton.
Cordray and DeWine have hammered each other in campaign ads and during their three debates, but also have areas of broad agreement, particularly on workforce development. Both advocate helping small businesses in a variety of ways and want to improve collaboration between government, educators and business.
Labor expert Edward W. Hill, professor of public affairs at Ohio State University, said both candidates are attuned to making workforce training responsive to the local market.
“I am pleased particularly with the way that Cordray is recognizing the infrastructure problem, and I’m seeing with DeWine’s proposals kind of an emphasis on looking to firms that are already here, recognizing that that is where the bulk of the job growth is coming from,” Hill said.
Workforce development and education are key to all the candidates’ plans, along with taxes, regulation, wages and funding for public infrastructure.
The candidates generally do not specify how they would pay for their plans beyond using existing resources, although Cordray’s infrastructure improvement program would ask voters to approve a bond issue. Gadell-Newton would increase business taxes to fund her initiatives.
“Our administration will train more people with the skills they need; ignite innovation, research, and investment in Ohio; and eliminate burdensome regulations to allow our businesses to flourish,” DeWine said in answers for the Dayton Daily News online Voter Guide.
Dealing with the addiction crisis is critical to improving the economy, DeWine says.
“The drug epidemic is “ripping apart families and communities, and it’s creating a drag on the economy because there are too many people who can’t work because they can’t pass a drug test,” DeWine said. “We also need to be laser-focused on our workforce to make sure we are matching people with the skills they need to get a good job.”
Cordray said workforce development is the state’s “most pressing economic challenge” and he proposes targeting $50 million in federal workforce development money to train people for the state’s fastest growing industries, including health care, education, construction, advanced manufacturing and computer systems, according to his Voter Guide answers.
Cordray said in an email that he is committed to “ensuring that the economic growth Ohio has seen in recent years is more broadly shared, so that no person or community is left out or left behind.”
“We’ll expand access to workforce development and jobs training programs, so that more Ohioans have a pathway to the middle class — regardless of whether they have a college degree,” Cordray said. “And we’ll invest in our infrastructure and support our homegrown small businesses to create more economic opportunity around Ohio.”
All four candidates support improving access to early childhood education and boosting vocational training for youth as key building blocks of workforce development.
For education beyond high school, DeWine and Cordray talk about finding ways to make college more affordable, including boosting the Ohio College Opportunity Grant for low-income students, and relying more on community colleges.
Both of their plans for closing the skills gap revolve around getting more people trained beyond high school, but not necessarily by obtaining a four-year degree. They support apprenticeships and internships as well as programs to get workers more certificates and other non-degree credentials accepted by industries.
The OhioMeansJobs website lists 148,324 available jobs in the state, including 79,100 that pay more than $50,000. But employers complain they can’t find workers with the skills they need, even for jobs that pay well.
DeWine says he would fund 10,000 certificates — at an estimated cost of about $600 each — for in-demand jobs and require recipients to work in Ohio for a period of time. His proposed Student Work Experience Tax Incentive would give a tax break to businesses that provide students with work experiences.
He also says he will push for a decrease in government regulations, including occupational licensing rules that he says create too many barriers to entering the workforce.
Cordray supports an “Ohio Peace Corps” for communities to hire high school and college graduates to do community development work.
He also wants a full audit of all development programs using public funds.
“For years, Ohio’s workforce development efforts have emphasized employers over employees,” Cordray said in his Voter Guide answers. “We will reverse those priorities. Instead of offering tax incentive packages to out-of-state companies, we will develop a workforce equipped with the skills that employers need to grow their businesses.”
A major source of the state’s workforce development funding is the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act program, which brought $110 million to the state during this fiscal year to train dislocated workers who lost their jobs, as well as low-income adults and youth.
DeWine wants the money sent to the state in a block grant, arguing that would give more local flexibility in targeting the spending, including using the funds to train people who already have jobs.
“We will continue to pressure the federal government to remove strings attached to federal job training dollars and block grant those funds to Ohio so the state can work with regional partners and make decisions that actually benefit communities,” DeWine said in the Voter Guide.
Cordray’s proposal is different. He wants to direct nearly $50 million to specific priorities, such as training programs in health care and other fast-growing industries.
“A quarter of all new jobs that Ohio is projected to add before 2024, for example, are in health care,” he wrote in his Voter Guide answers. “Ohio’s federal dollars will support programs preparing workers to enter careers in health care, education, construction, advanced manufacturing and computer systems.”
Greg R. Lawson, research fellow at The Buckeye Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank, views government-run training programs as “largely ineffective” and said the focus should instead be on attracting businesses and growing the economy.
Lawson argues that government is not good at forecasting what jobs of the future will be growing.
“Each of the industries highlighted by Mr. Cordray are considered “fast-growing” today, but it is impossible to know if that will continue,” Lawson said. “It could easily prove to be a waste of resources if one of those industries becomes a laggard in the next few years.”
DeWine’s block grant proposal also has critics. Hannah Halbert, researcher at Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal-leaning think tank, said local workforce development boards are made up of a large number of business and workforce development representatives who already have wide latitude in spending decisions.
The real problem, according to Halbert, is that federal workforce funding has been cut “while employer and worker needs in the labor market have been growing more complex. Block grants are not likely to address this very real need, rather it’s more likely to result in greater cuts in the future.”
Ryan Burgess, director of Kasich’s Office of Workforce Transformation, said the state’s regional offices do collaborate on determining where the funds are most needed, but adds there is room for improvement.
“There are communities that are doing things very very well,” he said. “It’s just not happening consistently.”
DeWine opposes raising taxes, saying they need to be low and predictable. One of his tax plans calls for using tax law to encourage businesses in economically distressed areas.
Irvine wants to eliminate the state income tax entirely, which currently brings in more than a third of state tax revenues.
“It’s hard to imagine that this would attract a large number of people or businesses,” responded Christopher Devine, assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton. “The question is whether Ohio would be able to collect a comparable level of tax revenue from other sources, such as an increased sales tax, in order to compensate for the loss of state income tax revenue.”
Cordray also opposes tax increases. But he would ask voters to approve a bond issue in the range of $500 million to nearly $1.9 billion to pay for improvements to roads, bridges and other infrastructure that he sees as essential to the state’s economic development efforts.
“It’s right out of the (former Ohio Governor) Jim Rhodes playbook,” OSU’s Hill said. “And we need it…But I still think we should increase the gas tax. It’s a user fee. It works. Infrastructure’s taken a hit and I do worry about bridges.”
DeWine’s plan calls for expanding broadband infrastructure by partnering with business to find ways to pay for it.
Cordray and Gadell-Newton both want the state to raise the minimum wage.
Irvine opposes an increase and DeWine says he supports Ohio’s existing law, approved by voters in 2006, which ties minimum wage increases to inflation.
Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University, said increasing the state minimum wage could have negative consequences.
“Increasing the minimum wage will have the short-term positive impact on people at the lower end of the wage scale,” Smith said. “(But) businesses will pass additional labor costs onto consumers. They will have more incentives to automate jobs. Higher minimum wages also reduce the number of entry level jobs in the market, and that is especially bad for young people and those with lower levels of education.”
But Lee Hannah, assistant professor of political science at Wright State University, said that while the impact of a minimum wage increase can be complex the issue of wage stagnation is real and is perhaps driving the problem companies say they have finding workers.
“Ohio’s unemployment is low right now, but there’s little evidence of wage growth. And Ohio lags behind the majority of states when it comes to median income and growth,” Hannah said. “I wonder if Ohio is losing quality workers to other states.”
Jobs by the numbers
Ohio 5.5 million employed 265,700 unemployed 4.6 percent unemployment rate Dayton Metropolitan Statistical Area 371,000 employed 15,400 unemployed 4 percent unemployment Source: Ohio Labor Market Review
Jobs by the numbers
5.5 million employed
4.6 percent unemployment rate
Dayton Metropolitan Statistical Area
4 percent unemployment
Source: Ohio Labor Market Review
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