It can be hard to find good news lately in Ohio. Foreclosure filings are at record levels — again. Income tax receipts plummeted by 35.6 percent from April 2008 to April 2009, and the downward trend continues in 2010. Unemployment remains high: The Cleveland region’s jobless rate was 8.9 percent in December.
But the current devastation is only half the story. Ohio is in a paradoxical moment: The present is painful, but the future could be promising. And in another paradox, its manufacturing heritage is part of the reason why.
The pre-recession economy was driven by consumption, energy profligacy and financial bubbles. The next American economy must be very different: export oriented, low carbon and innovation fueled.
According to the World Bank, exports make up only 11 percent of the gross domestic product of the United States, compared to 40 percent in Europe, 40 percent in China, 36 percent in Canada, 22 percent in India and 16 percent in Japan. Only 4 percent of U.S. companies export. Less than 0.5 percent of U.S. companies operate in more than one country.
Ohio can lead the United States back into the export game, because the state still manufactures what the rest of the world wants, including medical instruments, electrical machinery and aircraft parts.
Brazil and China, two rapidly growing economies, are Ohio’s third- and fourth-largest trading partners. The seven largest Ohio metros exported about $3.6 billion’s worth of goods and services to Brazil, India and China in 2007 alone.
Cleveland is in the country’s top quarter of large metros in terms of export intensity (the percentage of metropolitan-region output that is exported overseas). Every patient who comes from abroad to visit the Cleveland Clinic bolsters the region’s service exports economy.
Low carbon is the second hallmark of the next U.S. economy, and it could spark a production revolution in Ohio and other manufacturing states.
The transition to a low-carbon economy is fundamentally about markets and products. We will need new energy supplies — like wind and biomass — and new machines — like turbines and solar panels.
Also, we will need new kinds of batteries, new kinds of cars and energy-efficient appliances, smart meters and local food. All of these products could be designed, developed, built and grown in Ohio.
The state ranks seventh in the nation for total green-technology patents for 1998–2007, with strengths in batteries, hybrid systems and fuel cells.
According to a recent report by the Pew Center on the States, Ohio’s number of clean-energy jobs grew by more than 7 percent between 1998 and 2007, even as the overall number of jobs in the state fell 2 percent.
Creating the products and services demanded across the globe, and those that fit with a low-carbon world, will take quantum leaps in innovation.
Already, the state is gaining some notice, attracting $46 million in venture capital investments in clean technology in 2008, more than triple the 2007 amount.
The state is in the top 10 nationally in science and engineering doctorates awarded, in academic research and development spending, and in small-business-innovation research awards, according to recent National Science Foundation data.
Cleveland’s patent rate, another measure of innovative power, is above the national average.
We used to think that we could divorce innovation entirely from production, keeping the former here as we sent most of the latter abroad. But important innovations also emerge from the factory floor. Innovating more means producing more, and that production can take place in Ohio.
It is true that Ohio’s job losses in manufacturing have been staggering, especially in the northeast corner of the state. But manufacturing doesn’t have to be a millstone — it can be a stepping stone toward the next economy.
It is this mindset that should drive Ohioans’ policy decisions over the next year. It is not easy to raise spending on innovation, or vote for an additional $700 million for the Third Frontier, while pressing school districts and local governments to find more savings. But those hard choices will position Ohio for a stronger future.
The “Restoring Prosperity” report that the Brookings Institution and the Greater Ohio Policy Center released last week recommends 39 policies — from rebuilding physical assets to reorganizing work-force supports to collaborating at the regional scale — that can help Ohio strengthen its footing in an export-oriented, low-carbon and innovation-fueled world. Groups like the Fund for our Economic Future are already working to advance many of these ideas.
Yet just as important as the policies is the underlying message: Even as this economy falters, Ohio could benefit from the next one that’s emerging. Your strengths are just as real and relevant as the current crisis.