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Bob Smith: JobsOhio spearheading growth around the state

COLUMBUS – JobsOhio has become a force within the state of Ohio.

Since its inception in 2011, the state has risen from 48th in prospects for growth after the Great Recession to 39th in employment rankings, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The chairman of the board of directors, handpicked by Gov. Mike DeWine, is Bob Smith, a Cadiz native with a background in coal – the black gold of a fading past. Smith calls JobsOhio “unique” and said none of Ohio’s surrounding states, or anywhere that he knows of, has an organization quite like it.

“It was created under the (former governor John) Kasich administration,” Smith explained. “It was designed to get (economic development) out of state government” so that prospective companies moving into Ohio could work with and share their growth plans with an entity such as JobsOhio without being subject to the Sunshine Laws.

For an example, one needs to look no further than the recent announcement that Intel will be building a $20 billion chip-making facility to be completed in 2025. Smith said it was important that Intel was able to share its growth plans under legal cover involving confidentiality, “leading up to the deal.”

Smith said JobsOhio works with companies in the private sector more than the public side. And with help from industry experts and market sector leaders that came from industry, the agency provides a level of knowledge that traditional government entities wouldn’t necessarily have.

“That’s the competitive advantage for JobsOhio,” Smith said. “So, our job is to find out opportunities and it’s designed around industries that we know with great confidence are growth companies and growth industries.”

JobsOhio plays the strategic angle, believing that not all businesses are created equal. And the aid JobsOhio provides allows a business to grow “at a faster rate,” Smith said. This hopefully leads to growth in jobs “with the multiplier effect that comes with that.” He said several components help to make JobsOhio successful, but one of the most important is it money source.

“As a startup nonprofit, we were able to issue bonds that created proceeds that allow us to pay the state of Ohio to lease the state’s liquor enterprise for 25 years,” Smith explained.

“JobsOhio takes a risk,” he continued. “We borrow money from bond holders and we gave the state those proceeds, and the profits from the liquor enterprise are what funds the debt service to the bond holders. It funds the grants that we make, it funds our payroll, our employees. And so it literally is a nonprofit governed by a board.”

The governor appoints the nine board members and is the only connection to state government, Smith said.

Smith said JobsOhio may be connected or “aligned” with state government, but it is not part of the state government. He said private businesses can approach the agency for a grant but must provide a signed contract stating the number of jobs they will create, along with evidence of their growth.

“If they fall short, then they have to pay us back,” Smith said. “So JobsOhio is designed in a way, to say, to hold people accountable for the promises they’re making. We’ll give you the money, but you’ve got to have good business plans and execute on those plans to capitalize on the growth (to) create those jobs.”

Smith, who graduated from Ohio Northern University and earned an MBA from Duquesne, sees his role as knowing when to help management, identifying resources and working closely with the governor’s staff. He used the Intel deal as an example of the many people involved in making development deals.

“It takes a lot of people, local and state and regional, to do their part and make that happen. It took legislation getting passed last summer,” Smith said, noting the legislation increased the incentives JobsOhio can provide.

He said a conversation he had with DeWine last summer regarding the importance of the law being passed led to the announcement by Intel. He said Ohio was not originally on Intel’s short list of potential locations. But the state’s available land, infrastructure, close proximity to airports and highways, and low cost of living went a long way.

What may have closed that deal, though, was Intel’s impression of Ohio officials and how well they worked together with none of the in-fighting they had seen elsewhere, Smith said.

“That speaks to why we were successful in that project,” Smith said. “The influence is the glue to get things done and helping … towards a successful conclusion.”

Another contribution JobsOhio makes is what he called its aggressive ways of providing training for companies struggling to fill vacancies during the COVID era, which could include a university or a company providing a specific skill.

Some of Smith’s background includes working for Consol Energy while living in Washington, Pennsylvania, and beginning Spero Smith Investment Advisers in Cleveland. His Cadiz roots also include his wife, the former owner of Mary Jane’s Bakery in Cadiz. But his big influence is his father, who wore many hats in Harrison County, and whose footsteps he followed into public service.

“And so I just saw that public service component to him that was … natural, and I kind of had a yearning to give back,” Smith noted.