In the spirited college song sung by The Best Damn Band In The Land, the answer to the "cute little riddle" identifying the name of the state for which the university is named, goes: "It’s round on the ends and "hi" in the middle, that’s the riddle, O...Hi...O."
But after 16 years of Republican governors, and nearly as many years of Republican rule of the state’s legislature and statewide offices, the slow slide from a one-time economic and manufacturing powerhouse to a state that, like "Sloopy," is just trying to "hang on," means it’s middle name may now have to change to "low" to reflect the reality it finds itself in today.
A New "Low" For "O...Hi...O"?
Just last week, Moody’s Investors downgraded the future outlook for "O...Low...O" to "negative" from "stable," reflecting what the nationally respected bond-rating agency sees as the Buckeye State’s daunting challenge to reverse decades of self-centered, business-centric Republican policies that have sucked jobs out of the state, leaving it in an economic ditch that will be tough to climb out of in the near future.
Federal data show that Ohio has lost a net 170,200 jobs since the beginning of 2000 and nearly 235,000 manufacturing jobs during that period.
Moody’s also pointed to the sweeping tax cuts and other tax changes that Republicans enacted in 2005, noting they have "limited the state’s financial flexibility."
The state will be giving up an estimated $4.8 billion in revenue by 2010 because of the phased cuts or elimination of three major taxes while generating $1.3 billion in revenue from a new commercial-activities tax on business, according to the state’s taxation department.
This simple graphic, offered by Ohio's Greatest Home Newspaper, puts a tight little frame around the reasons used by Moody’s to make its decision, and what new Democratic Governor Ted Strickland has to do, in addition to battling with Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature, to turn things around.
JOBS, EDUCATION BIG, LOOMING PROBLEMS
Not only has "O...Low...O" been loosing jobs at a rapid rate, exacerbated by the Bush presidency’s attitude that outsourcing jobs is good for business (but not for workers), but its system of funding education , deemed four times by the state supreme court to be in violation of the state constitution, has again been taken to task in a report that, while pointing to some moderate successes, concluded that the state’s system is woefully inadequate when compared with the level of education offered in other countries.
Overall, it's a broken system. The system cannot rely as much as it does on local funding. If it does, it's going to be inequitable and unpredictable. You need to get off the treadmill of a school district going back to the ballot every two years simply to stay where they are.
So far, your standards don't match the best in the world. A 15-year-old boy in Ohio who does well in math cannot be confident he will do well in math in Singapore.
"POOR OHIO" MORE REAL THAN EVER BEFORE
So not only is "O...Low...O" suffering from the loss of manufacturing jobs and an education system that can’t compete in training its young brains to prepare for the unforgiving, ruthless reality of globalization, but it is increasingly becoming a state of poverty, to boot.
Jim Petro (former AG and Auditor) and Ken Blackwell (former Treasurer and Secretary of State), two long-time Republicans who squared off against each other last year to run for governor, repeatedly sounded warnings that "O...Low...O" is becoming older and poorer. These are demographic measures that will not be explained away soon, regardless of any marketing plans to the contrary.
It shows the number of poor people living in the state – sixth in rank of states having the most people living in severe poverty – exceeds the combined populations of Cincinnati, Toledo and Canton. This information, when added to the ignominy of Cleveland being labeled in 2005 as the nation’s biggest "poor" city, undercuts the business message that "O...Low...O" is a great place to establish a business and raise a family.
BY THE NUMBERS
States with the most people in severe poverty:
California - 1.9 million
Texas - 1.6 million
New York - 1.2 million
Florida - 943,670
Illinois - 681,786
Ohio - 657,415
Pennsylvania - 618,229
Michigan - 576,428
Georgia - 562,014
North Carolina - 523,511
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
"O...LOW...O"s MIXED MESSAGE: WILL IT WORK?
"Ohio: Build Your Business. Love your life" is the branding slogan offered by The Ohio Business Development Coalition OBDC), a business group started in the Taft administration and headed by an executive from Procter & Gamble, who said his group’s mission is to "create and sustain a globally competitive Ohio brand" through a combination of public and private funding.
Ed Burghard, the executive on loan from Procter & Gamble whose salary is paid by the company, said OBDC is funded in the current biennium at $5.2 million a year and that so far, the group has netted $250,000 in private funding.
A major initiative for the non-profit group entails a $2.5 million marketing campaign that won high marks from the Wall Street Journal for effectiveness. Mr. Burghard said WSJ research indicated that the impact of the campaign, which included a nine-month purchase of advertising in key business magazines and direct mail to some 28,000 U.S.-based CEOs that stressed the benefits of the "tax reforms" equated to what a business might expect to achieve by spending $30 million to roll out a new project.
Given the reality of the real news in the state, some might say of this self-basting business initiative, BFD.
When Burghard was asked by a Cleveland state senator at a recent committee hearing what the perceptions of the state were outside the Midwest, he said the state, essentially, "was a blank slate. One of the challenges, the published report said, was "getting Ohio executives who tend to be a ‘glass-half-empty group’ fully engaged in promoting the state."
The sad fact of Burghard’s answer is that this has been the prevailing answer to this question for decades now. But with reports detailing the state’s job losses, its tight fiscal condition, its poorly funded school system, it’s little wonder that a paltry nickel-and-dime marketing campaign will make any measurable dent in how outsiders see "O...Low...O."