A self-described economic developer said Jan. 30 that those in his profession would do well to court young, college-educated women in their efforts.
Women’s median earnings still lag behind men’s in Ohio, but in cities like Dallas and New York, women in their 20s are making more than their male counterparts, said C. Robert Sawyer, keynote speaker at the State of the Region Conference sponsored by BGSU’s Center for Regional Development.
In Dallas, those women are earning 20 percent more than men, and Midwestern women see opportunities in such cities, added Sawyer, director of the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) regional office in Chicago.
“If your economic development is not female friendly, you’ll lose many of your best and brightest, your best educated, to places like Chicago and New York City,” he warned his listeners at Perrysburg’s Holiday Inn French Quarter.
Sawyer’s office serves Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, and his address offered a perspective on development in that region—“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
Listing the positives, he said that all of the Big Ten Conference universities, along with the University of Chicago and Case Western Reserve University, have been rated among the world’s 100 best, and they attract students worldwide.
But those students tend to leave the Midwest after graduation, he continued, and in Ohio, that so-called brain drain helps contribute to an “ugly” statistic—the state ranks 39th in the nation in the percentage of its population that holds college degrees, about 27 percent.
With roughly 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water, the Great Lakes are another plus for the region, and considering the current lack of water in the Sun Belt, “a lot of the people who fled the Midwest are going to make a U-turn and come back,” Sawyer predicted.
While conceding that “economic distress is widespread”—as evidenced by the eligibility of 60 percent of Ohio’s counties for EDA grant aid—he also cited the Great Lakes states’ lead role in several emerging global industries, including those related to energy, the environment and transportation, bioscience, and advanced manufacturing.
To capitalize on such strengths, Sawyer suggested intergovernmental cooperation and regional approaches, which he praised the BGSU center for advocating. Those elements, along with strategic planning, “will lay the groundwork for projects that strengthen Ohio’s economic competitiveness,” he maintained.
He further recommended, among other things, rekindling a “culture and practice of entrepreneurship and new business incubation,” which he said is part of an innovation infrastructure that supports talent from college campuses, involving universities in economic development, and developing “green-collar” jobs like biodiesel vehicle repair, nontoxic printing, home weatherizing and sustainable landscaping. Such jobs are the “21st-century answer to jobs lost on the assembly line,” Sawyer said.
Adding another piece to the economic development puzzle at the sixth annual conference was Ed Burghard, executive director of the Ohio Business Development Coalition.
Burghard’s topic was “Building a Globally Competitive Ohio Brand,” which he said has become an “operational imperative” in a global economy. “It’s a global game, and we need to play,” he added, pointing out that branding is not simply adopting a logo and tagline.
“Place branding,” according to the Procter and Gamble marketing executive, entails making and delivering a promise to capital investors. An adopted “Ohio Promise” assures prospective investors that “you can achieve your professional and personal aspirations without having to sacrifice one for the other.”
Research has shown that perceptions of Ohio beyond a day’s drive away are neutral, while those of investors outside the U.S. are nonexistent, said Burghard. Brand Ohio aims to let the world neither define nor forget the state.
The coalition that he heads is looking to market investment in Ohio using what he called the three “moments of truth”—winning the opportunity to compete for investor capital, winning the competition and winning retention and expansion.
While the state has invested too much in the first “moment”—the “attraction phase”—and not enough in the second, its spending on the third phase, for existing investors, has been “woefully” inadequate, according to Burghard. “A lot of them are not feeling the love they should be feeling,” he said.
Among the outlets for the Ohio brand so far are print advertisements and the OhioMeansBusiness.com Web site, which gets 15-20 percent of its hits from outside the U.S., Burghard noted.
As to whether the efforts are making a difference, he pointed to the state’s 2006 win of Site Selection magazine’s Governor’s Cup, which is awarded annually for the most closed business deals over a certain size. “I would argue that it’s (branding) working,” he said.
Panel presents perspectives
Also providing economic perspectives at the conference was a panel comprised of Bruce Baumhower, president of United Auto Workers Local 12 in Toledo; Dawn Larzelere, director of legislative affairs for the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, and Duke Wheeler, a sales associate specializing in retail properties for CB Richard Ellis in Toledo.
Baumhower said that while he agrees that the regional economy must diversify, he also wants to ensure that manufacturing, especially the automotive sector, isn’t abandoned. It’s a strength, he said, citing what he called a skilled work force—particularly in new technology—among his union’s membership, and recent reinvestment in Toledo by Chrysler.
Auto workers are dedicated to meeting new federal fuel mileage standards, Baumhower said, and another challenge, “legacy” costs for retirees, has been addressed in new labor agreements with the Big Three automakers, also including Ford and General Motors. This area also provides good infrastructure and a strong supplier base, he added.
Larzelere addressed the subprime mortgage loan mess, saying the “scheme” was based on the assumption that there would never be a housing slump. Now that one is here, she doesn’t see it turning around soon, although efforts are being made to help borrowers who are in trouble.
One such initiative is called HOPE NOW, a cooperative effort between housing counseling organizations, investors and lenders. Larzelere, a BGSU graduate, termed the HOPE NOW Web site “a triage center” where distressed homeowners can see what resources are available to help them.
Pointing out that 950,000 square feet of retail space is under construction in Toledo, Wheeler said he expects to see less speculative building to come, but “green,” energy-efficient construction will be big.