Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

JobsOhio is the brainchild of Gov. John Kasich, conceived during Kasich’s run for the state’s top office. Like any 2½-year-old, the public-private nonprofit economic development organization has had its share of growing pains.

Now, JobsOhio enters 2013 under new leadership. The November transition between new chief investment officer John Minor and Mark Kvamme, a California venture capitalist hired for $1, gives the organization its first permanent leader.

“Our focus is to build out the team, add to our resources here. When we get to fully up and running, I think that’s when you’re really going to see the true impact of what JobsOhio can do,” says Minor.

Kasich established JobsOhio early in 2011 in his overhaul of the Ohio Department of Development (now the Ohio Development Services Agency)—part of his effort to get the state moving “at the speed of business.” It didn’t take long for the political squabbles to start, with lawsuits over Kvamme’s residency and the constitutionality of the organization, controversy about lack of public oversight and closed meetings, and a stalemate over funding.

JobsOhio is to be funded by profits from the state’s liquor distribution business. The organization was to pay $1.4 billion for the operation rights for 25 years, funded by a bond sale. The lease would give the nonprofit an estimated $100 million annually for economic development efforts. But Ohio Department of Commerce Director David Goodman has refused to sign the transfer, pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by Democratic legislators and nonprofit watchdog group ProgressOhio that challenges JobsOhio’s constitutionality.

For now, JobsOhio is running at half-staff, with 22 employees. Its current budget comes from private sources, which JobsOhio has not disclosed. Minor won’t comment on contingency plans, saying only that JobsOhio is “still working through all of our alternatives.”

Minor says JobsOhio had big wins in 2012, including the November announcement of a new IBM analytics center expected to create at least 500 new IT jobs. He predicts more business will come in 2013 and beyond. A new $1.4 million Thrive in Ohio advertising campaign aims to spread the word to potential investors around the country.

“The feedback we’re getting from the business community, from CEOs, from companies, is that this is working,” says Minor. “We have people here that actually know how to talk business language to CEOs, to management teams, talk about strategy, and I think that goes a long way.”

According to JobsOhio’s 2012 third quarter report, the agency secured 5,788 in new job commitments, up 9.7 percent from 5,276 in third quarter 2011, as well as $1 billion in capital investments and 16,317 retained jobs statewide. Year-to-date, it reported gains of 55,340 jobs (including retained jobs) with a total of $2.8 billion in payroll, increases of 19.6 percent and 3.7 percent over 2011, respectively.

Kenny McDonald, chief economic officer of Columbus 2020, a JobsOhio partner, expects continued local growth from the state initiatives. “I can’t predict what will happen with some of the legal cases, but to me there’s no looking back as far as the approach,” says McDonald. JobsOhio “tills the soil for us as we go out in the region to talk to businesses. … The better Ohio does, the better the Columbus region will do.”

Reprinted from the January 2013 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.