Room for improvement

It’s likely not a report card Gov. Taft will put on his refrigerator.

After all, it gives a failing grade to state government’s service to small businesses.

The Governor’s Small Business Advisory Council has spent more than a year examining ways to create a more positive small business climate in Ohio and evaluating the government’s past performance in this area.

“We view ourselves as customers to state services,” advisory council chair Joseph Jeffries told Gov. Bob Taft when he visited one of the advisory council’s meetings late last year. Jeffries owns Reisbeck Food Markets Pharmacy in St. Clairsville.

“Everybody has a report card of how customers see our companies,” Jeffries explains later when asked about the scorecard the 22 advisers gave Taft to illustrate their perception of the government. “Unfortunately — I don’t think it’s any reflection on the governor himself — but it’s a mess.”

In the areas of customer service, flexibility, accountability, health care reform, mandates and regulations, tort reform and business-friendly environment, the council says the state “doesn’t meet customer expectations.

The only two areas that do meet expectations are tax reform, for which the council cited good progress with Tax Commissioner Thomas M. Zaino’s leadership, and work force development, led by new efforts of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, as well as the state’s Workforce Development Board. The members also note changes within the state’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation have exceeded their expectations.

Like any good teacher, the council makes recommendations for improvement:

  • Provide an ombudsman for communication between small business and the government.
  • Reinitiate tort reform efforts.
  • To improve health care issues, create a small business advocacy office at the Ohio Department of Insurance, create a standardized insurance claim form and insurance card to reduce administrative costs and create more health insurance pools.
  • Arrange for state agencies such as the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, the Department of Job and Family Services and the Department of Taxation to share information instead of having businesses report the same information to so many separate agencies. At the governor’s request, Zaino is looking into this issue.
  • Create an incentive for graduates from Ohio colleges and universities to remain in the state to work and/or start their own businesses; better market state and federal government programs accessible to the small business community; and establish a state tax credit for small business owners who invest in the education of their employees. Taft’s executive assistant for business and industry, David Celona, is tracking these ideas along with work force development suggestions from chambers of commerce.

“We got a number of specific recommendations we will be taking up with Karen Conrad (manager of the Ohio Department of Development’s Office of Small and Developing Business) and departments such as the Department of Insurance and the Department of Job and Family Services,” Taft says. “I assume there will also be some discussions with legislators.”

Mandates and regulations will be the focus of the council’s April 12 meeting, when members hope to speak with representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health. Other issues on the council’s plate are work force development, tax reform, legal reform and health care.

Taft says he will remain in touch with the council members by listening to their comments and using them as a focus group on other issues.

“I hope it will continue,” he says of the council, “because it will keep us on our toes and hold us accountable to small business.” How to reach: David Celona, governor’s executive assistant for business and industry, (614) 728-4156; Karen Conrad, Office of Small and Developing Business, (614) 466-2718 or [email protected]; Joseph Jeffries, Reisbeck Food Markets Pharmacy, (740) 695-7050; Gov. Bob Taft’s office, (614) 466-3555 or [email protected]; Thomas Zaino, state tax commissioner, (614) 466-2166

Joan Slattery Wall ([email protected]) is an associate editor and statehouse correspondent for SBN Magazine.