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May 4 vote determines future of Third Frontier Program, millions of dollars for OSU

Ohio voters will elect whether to continue the Third Frontier Program on Tuesday. The program has been called “critical” to the state’s future by both Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.

Gee and Strickland said they hope voters will pass Issue 1 and continue funding for the Third Frontier Program, a program designed to expand Ohio’s technological research, development and commercialization.

The program was started in 2002 by the Taft Administration and was initially given 10 years and $1.4 billion.

To date, about $1 billion of that money has been awarded, with $250 million going to the central Ohio area. Of that, OSU has been awarded $177 million, just more than 70 percent.

In an e-mail to OSU students and faculty last week, Gee stressed the importance of Issue 1 to the university system and urged all to vote “yes” on Issue 1 to “assure a vibrant future for Ohio.”

In a conference call with The Lantern, Strickland echoed Gee’s thoughts.

“We believe it is the most effective economic development and job creation tool available,” Strickland said. “It has proven effectiveness, and it is so important to our university communities.”

“One of the major purposes of the Third Frontier is to take university-generated research and to bring that research to a place of commercialization.”

State estimates say the program has created 54,983 jobs at an average salary of $65,518. Additionally, they say 637 companies have been attracted or funded through the program, generating $4.8 billion in investment.

According to a study by SRI International, an independent non-profit research and development organization headquartered in California, the program has created approximately 48,000 jobs and around $6.6 billion in economic activity to date. SRI International says 9,519 of those jobs were directly created, and the remainder were indirectly created.

There is also an internship program, which has provided about 3,000 internships for students.

Those who support a “yes” vote on Issue 1 said such figures prove the importance of the program in a state that has lost more than 400,000 jobs in the past three years.

If Issue 1 passes, the state will borrow $700 million more to continue funding research and development projects.

Critics said the state cannot afford more spending. Ohio currently faces an estimated budget shortfall of $8 billion next year.

Thomas Brinkman, a former Statehouse member now running for
county auditor in Hamilton County, has branded the issue as corporate welfare, and told Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer on April 11 that “we just can’t afford it. The state has to start trimming back, and there’s no better way to start than to vote ‘no’ on Issue 1.”

Strickland is familiar with Brinkman’s statements, he said.

“The fact is that this program has broad base support, with the exception of a few legislators,” Strickland said. “I think they are being very short-sighted and mischaracterizing it when they call it ‘corporate welfare.'”

In February, 13 house Republicans, out of 99 total members including 46 Republicans, voted against the issue.

State Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, voted against it and told the Cincinnati Enquirer on March 29, “When ethanol was the big thing, a private company got a bunch of subsidies to build a plant outside Lima; but now all we have is an empty plant. We could take $700 million and do a lot more by way of tax cuts to stimulate our economy than this will ever do.”

Additional criticism has come from the state’s black legislators, who have expressed concerns that such a small percentage of jobs created by Third Frontier are held by minorities.

“We’re very aggressive about pursing that,” said Eric Fingerhut, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, regarding minority beneficiaries of the program.

Section 184.172 of the Ohio Revised Code requires the Third Frontier Program to make a conscious effort to “include minorities in the various projects and initiatives” sponsored by the program.

These efforts include partnering with historically black colleges and universities and contacting minority-owned businesses to notify them of Third Frontier projects and initiatives.

Though the issue has enjoyed largely bipartisan support, its passage is still undecided. Gee and Strickland will have a much better idea of the state’s future after the polls close Tuesday.

“It’s important not just to the state’s future, but to the future of students,” Strickland said. 

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