Better policy today will create a brighter economy tomorrowApr 02, 2022
This opinion piece was first published by The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Governor Mike DeWine’s State of the State address last week offered an optimistic view of Ohio. Borrowing a line from Bengals star Joe Burrow, Mr. DeWine told the General Assembly that Ohio is "coming for it all." The governor gave legislators a solid pep-talk and his optimism is well-placed and contagious.
After decades of struggling to adapt in a shifting, global marketplace, battered by automation, foreign competition and deindustrialization, Ohio is collecting its fair share of success stories. Multinational corporations like Intel are investing in the state, and rays of economic sunshine are peaking through the post-pandemic clouds.
But to get Ohio’s economy from where it stands today to where Mr. DeWine would like it to be tomorrow will require more work. And the state should work smarter, not harder, as the old saying goes, by making better policy choices that will propel Ohio into the 21st century economy.
Ohio’s economic struggles are well-documented. In 2018, the Brookings Institution rated 70 older industrial cities across the country, ranking them as strong, emerging, stabilizing and vulnerable. Nationally, more than half of the cities rated strong or emerging, but less than a quarter of Ohio’s ranked cities could say the same.
A March 2022 report from the Economic Innovation Group bemoaned Ohio as a state that "demonstrates the false promise of an economic 'stability 'premised on low rates of churn and change." And The Buckeye Institute has regrettably shown how state and local policy mistakes have made Ohio unresponsive to market changes even as other cities in the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Utah have adjusted more nimbly and thrived.
Fortunately, the policy missteps that have shackled Ohio can be corrected.
Outdated occupational licensing laws, for example, have choked labor markets with regulatory bottlenecks and widened gaps between employer needs and employee skills. These antiquated laws and regulations reduce flexibility for workers and businesses, make it harder for professionals licensed in other states to put their skills to work here, contribute to labor shortages, and slow Ohio’s already anemic population growth – which has cost the state the economic benefits of specialization. A pair of bills currently pending in the General Assembly would update these laws and make it easier for employers to hire staff, attract out-of-state workers and deliver goods and services more reliably and affordably. That’s a start.
Policymakers should also pursue more structural changes to reform how Ohio trains, educates, upskills and reskills its workforce. The state should change its post-high school education funding, for instance, to reflect outcome-driven metrics like loan repayment rates, debt-to-earnings ratios, degree completion and post-graduation employment. And micro-credentialing programs modeled after Ohio’s TechCred program – which offers financial assistance to businesses that invest in their workforces and help their employees earn short-term degrees or job certificates – should be expanded and made more available.
Finally, Ohio should explore working with Washington policymakers to create a state-based visa program that would give the state greater say in attracting high-skilled immigrants who tend to be entrepreneurial and inventive. Attracting talented international labor will help spur lagging population growth and likely encourage more foreign investment, too, both of which are powerful catalysts for economic growth.
Ohio is not yet where it needs to be, but Mr. DeWine has good reason for his buoyant optimism. And by correcting prior mistakes and making better economic policy choices, Ohio may soon be "coming for it all."
Logan Kolas is an economic policy analyst with The Buckeye Institute’s Economic Research Center and the author of "Policy Solutions for More Innovation: Modernizing Ohio’s Policies to Seize New Economic Opportunities."