Ohio ranks 27th in nationwide survey

MARIETTA – On a list of the best states to do business in, as ranked by Chief Executive Magazine, Ohio ranks 27th, below more than half of the nation.

The survey was completed by 500 CEOs across the country and gauges sentiment on a variety of issues, including taxes and regulations, unemployment, state debt, quality of the workforce and living environment. West Virginia was ranked 35th.

J.P. Donlon, editor-in-chief of Chief Executive Magazine, said Ohio’s ranking was likely due to other states making improvements.

“One of the reasons (Ohio has) dropped in recent years is other states have been vigorously moving ahead,” he said.

Local officials said they don’t dispute a lower ranking and that Ohio has a lot of room for improvement.

Chip Pickering, CEO of Pickering Associates, said that though most of his business ventures are in West Virginia, he is invested in Ohio’s business climate. He said training workers is big for companies that may want to come into the area.

“One of the things I would notice: workforce quality is three-and-a-half stars out of five,” Pickering said. “I have to think Ohio does a very good job of number one, being sensitive to the workforce need, and trying to identify a requisite skill set. Washington State Community College and the career center are very aggressively trying to identify from the business community what needs are.”

Charlotte Keim, president and CEO of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, said some of the regulations in Ohio are strict, which may keep some businesses away.

“The environmental rules and regulations, are they too burdensome?” she asked, adding that businesses should allow for some protection but should “feel like they’re not spending all their time meeting requirements.”

Pickering said the living environment in the area should be a draw, not a drawback, even though Chief Executive gave it a three out of five.

“I would call the state of Ohio a high quality living environment,” he said. “Marietta is ranked best in class for places to visit. Indeed, I do know we have some air quality issues in the area and I think steps are being made to improve that. We have great places for recreation and (being) outdoors.”

One big challenge is drawing businesses in and Washington County Commission President Ron Feathers said a big part of that is spending.

“We’re spending more money than we’re taking in,” he said. “Revenue is at about $105 billion and spending is $121 billion (at the state level). When there’s uncertainty as far as both state and local government, businesses often look very unfavorably toward that.”

Donlon said the long-term trend shows Ohio on the rise.

“The long-term trend is favorable to Ohio,” he said. “That’s in part because they’ve trimmed some of the tax and regulation regime. They’ve taken steps to realign states practiced with interest to the business community.”

Donlon said Gov. John Kasich has been urging for tax relief toward businesses, and that should be noted because it shows Ohio can improve.

“It’s moving up an $8 billion deficit to a $1.5 billion surplus,” he said. “It’s one of the indications that things will improve for Ohio.”

Feathers said locally, the plan has been to look at finances and taking into consideration the shale play for oil and gas, but he said there are many restrictions for businesses.

“We’re weighing heavily on shale play but as far a business being down, I’m not surprised,” he said. “We have a lot of taxes and a lot of restrictions. The economy is like water; it’ll find the path of least resistance.”

Feathers said a problem with the oil business is while drilling may be going on here it’s being refined elsewhere.

“We’re drilling for and finding natural resources, but pipelining it to Louisiana,” Feathers said. “That doesn’t do us any good to take it down there and have it refined…We have the opportunity to get it back.”

Southeastern Ohio Port Authority Interim Director Jim Black said one big problem, especially in Washington County, is infrastructure.

“We need to have building-ready sites so if someone comes in, we can have an area ready,” he said. “These companies usually don’t have much time. (Getting a building set up and ready) can take years. We need sites available for them to come into.”

Keim said in addition to site-ready properties, there are some other problems.

“Telecommunications: If you want broadband, it’s hard to get (out in the rural areas),” she said. “They all cost money and that makes it harder.”

Feathers said another huge factor is education.

“We’ve got to have a good education system; we have to give people a good reason to move here,” he said, adding that local programs need to be managed effectively and efficiently.

Black agreed with Feathers.

“We have some people in our area that have the best work ethics,” he said. “We have a big availability of skilled craftsmen.”

Jean G. Farmer, director of Marietta Main Street, said a big part of what the organization works on is how to get people into Marietta.

“We’re opening up communication between all organizations that care about bringing business to Marietta,” she said. “Good Life Marietta, the development director of the city, the Chamber (of Commerce) and the (Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau), we’re all meeting monthly to talk and communicate…If people talk…we can find out what the issues are and possibly help them.”

Farmer said Marietta has some good things going for it that could be considered at higher levels.

“Getting the entertainment part of our downtown up and running (is huge),” Farmer said. “The Colony (Peoples Bank Theatre) is right there on the edge. We’re getting more restaurants downtown. If you have someplace where people know they can go and be entertained, maybe the shops will stay open longer.”

Going with the entertainment, Farmer said tourism is huge and should be something that helps draw potential business in.

“If (you stop and) think, tourism is a huge economic boom for us,” she said.

Sylvi Caporale, co-owner of American Flags & Poles, said not only is tourism discounted, so is the idea of spending money locally.

“I think, quite honestly, people in communities don’t realize the impact of them spending money locally,” she said. “That allows somebody else to earn something locally… The businesses benefiting from the sale can actually put more money back into the community.”

Caporale said this spending doesn’t even have to be at a city level.

“I think there’s an opportunity for people to learn the impact of people spending their dollars local, from the city, county and to the state… I buy Ohio-made pottery, for example. There’s all kinds of pottery, but this is an Ohio product and it’s personalized to Marietta. The dollars stay in Ohio.”

Keim said it’s important to remember that businesses can fail anywhere, not just Ohio or Washington County.

“We have a number of companies that come in every year,” she said. “People do try; some succeed and some don’t. That’s true in any place in the country.”

Donlon said Ohio still has a way to go and should take business models from other states as advice and should consider every option to get businesses into the state.

“Don’t stand still; you’ve still got to go and finish the job,” he said.