Behind the times

I own a formidable collection of memorabilia from the dot-com era, a reminder of this unique time of hyper-entrepreneurship, when legend has it that money really did grow on trees … or at least on the back of cocktail napkins.

Only one company represented in my collection had roots in Ohio, and it relocated to Chicago to live out its numbered days. The collection is reflective of the start-up activity in Ohio in comparison to that in the rest of the country, and it reaffirms the region’s — and state’s — conservative investment mindset.

Northeast Ohio not only missed the boat in the late ’90s because venture capital, private investment and bank funds weren’t invested, but the region remains slow in sparking new business growth.

This is why I’m surprised to hear complaints about Ohio voters’ rejection of Issue 1, which would have allowed the state — and more specifically, Gov. Bob Taft — to borrow money by issuing bonds to invest in private business start-ups. Backers called the defeat a devastating blow to the prospects of high-tech and education-driven ventures in Ohio.

Hogwash! The rejection is nothing more than a message that voters aren’t happy with Taft or his economic plan, don’t want him racking up another $50 million in bond debt each year and don’t trust him to judge which investments have a good business future. (To be fair, his Third Frontier Project, not affected by the failure of Issue 1, is a good program that has helped businesses across the state.)

Entrepreneurship will continue in its own stunted way as mid-sized companies expand through cash flow, limited private investments and bank credit lines as they’ve always done.

There is a larger issue here, and that is that Northeast Ohioans continue to pray for one big panacea to spark economic development, such as an Issue 1, a $400 million convention center or a Whiskey Island economic development project. This is the wrong way to spur growth in business and jobs. It’s time to start thinking about how to build jobs slowly, sustainably and systematically — especially considering the devastating loss of manufacturing jobs that will never return.

To do this will require the region’s financial stalwarts to provide more business loans, greater start-up capital amounts and less conservative financial thinking. Otherwise, the rest of the nation will benefit from an economic recovery, while Northeast Ohio falls even further behind.