Home Money OPINION: John Kasich is failing Southern Ohio. Here’s why.

OPINION: John Kasich is failing Southern Ohio. Here’s why.

9 min read
Rendering of Facebook's planned New Albany data center. Construction is expected to be completed by 2020.

Investing in social media is a smart decision on John Kasich’s part, right? Wrong, opinion writer Zach Reizes says, if it’s not in the right place. 

In 2016, Ohio Governor John Kasich ran for president and was the last to withdraw from the Republican primary against Donald Trump. Kasich is rumored to be running for president again in 2020, but the U.S. public should not trust him with the country’s economy.

As reported last month by The New Political, Facebook recently announced plans to build a data center in New Albany, Ohio. The facility, which will be powered entirely by renewable forms of energy generation, will involve 750 million dollars of investment and create up to 100 jobs for the Columbus, Ohio suburb.

Private companies like Facebook get to make the final decision about where to invest. But the state also has a role, offering tax incentives to ensure a deal of this magnitude is finalized. For a man who was elected on the backs of working class Ohioans, not pushing for Facebook to invest in a city with more legacy industry is a betrayal of his promise to promote “the knowledge belt” economy.

The past decade has been an exciting one for Facebook, whose growing audience demands constant increases in physical infrastructure for data-storage purposes. The social media giant, which is worth more than $306 billion, has experienced continual annual revenue growth since 2012.

In contrast with Facebook, workers in the state of Ohio are not experiencing revenue growth in their paychecks or their wallets. Since before the 2009 recession, Ohio’s average hourly wages have trailed the national average, as has statewide job growth. Small town Ohioans are suffering from the loss of manufacturing jobs in cities such as Lancaster and Springfield, and workforce participation remains stubbornly low.

Larger forces have shaped Ohio’s lackluster economic growth and recovery since the recession almost a decade ago. Manufacturing jobs nationwide, including those in the coal industry, have been lost due to increased worker productivity. In addition, as global trends shift away from fossil fuel use, the statewide non-renewable energy sector will continue to suffer. In 2016, Ohio’s Public Utilities commission reported that 83 percent of the state’s electricity was generated through coal and natural gas burning.

But this is precisely the point: Ohio’s economic stagnation is not unpredictable. In fact, it is a phenomenon that can be studied and understood as natural for rustbelt states. Yet the unsurprising distress of small town Ohio begs the question: where is the investment?

Since John Kasich took office, local governments have suffered from constantly decreasing revenue streams. According to Policy Matters, a Cleveland based policy analysis group, the 2012-2013 state budget cut the Local Government Fund in half and in 2017, communities around Ohio will be working with 1.1 billion dollars fewer than they had in 2010. Paired with restructured funding for lower school education, small communities around Ohio have been decimated by seven years of statewide budget cuts.

Proponents of John Kasich’s trickle-down plan will point to data that includes generally improved manufacturing rates statewide since 2010, and a $2 billion rainy day fund that Kasich has saved for financially difficult times. The number of technology related jobs in Ohio has also increased under Kasich.

Which brings the conversation back to Facebook and their suburban Columbus data center. Located 21 minutes from the Ohio Statehouse, New Albany is right in Kasich’s backyard. And ranked by per capita income, New Albany is the 12th wealthiest city in the state and 1st wealthiest city in central Ohio.

But compared to the rest of Ohio, New Albany does not need the jobs this data center will create.

Perks of New Albany include easy access to the Columbus airport and tech sector, an excellent area school system and young talent coming out of Columbus. For Facebook, the location was a smart decision, as attracting professionals to work at the new facility will be an easy task. But for struggling Ohio cities where $750 million of investment could go a long way, this announcement is an unfortunate one.

JobsOhio, the private non-profit aimed at bringing investment into the state, bills the deal as a win for all, but it is not. This announcement is a win for the same wealthy communities that have been benefitting for a decade from Kasich’s budgetary priorities, and it is a win for a man who may be running for president in three years time.

Guaranteeing food, shelter and the opportunity to succeed to every Ohioan should absolutely take priority over saving for a future crisis. Kasich should have been spending the past decade investing in, not stripping funding from, towns that have suffered from predictable economic downturns. If Kasich is unable to look at his own state and understand these considerations, why should the U.S. trust him with our national priorities?

In order to facilitate the spread of wealth that small town Ohio needs, the state must reinvest in old centers of industry. Cities like Lancaster, Circleville and Springfield need flexible funding for citywide infrastructure improvements. Investment in college access programs, which is far below the regional average, must increase. The state should invest once again in local governments and primary school education.

Enough of John Kasich’s trickle-down economics. Ohioans need a new deal to jumpstart their economy, and it is needed now.

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