Editorial: Ohio’s Intel coup could also spur changes in Greater Cleveland and at the Statehouse

A recent editorial by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Full credit to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted for quarterbacking Ohio’s successful effort to land what could become one of the world’s largest semiconductor complexes, in central Ohio’s Licking County just east of Columbus. Without their focus, determination and leadership, or the full cooperation of JobsOhio and Licking County officials, it’s likely Intel’s $20 billion investment and its 20,000 direct and indirect jobs — and its estimated $2.8 billion annual boost to Ohio’s gross domestic product — would have gone elsewhere. And that $20 billion — greased with both monetary and political incentives from Ohio — is just a downpayment on what could become five times as large a manufacturing megaplay by Intel, which hopes the complex can expand to a $100 billion investment.

This is huge for a state that’s already a U.S. manufacturing powerhouse but was sorely in need of a big high-tech stake likely to pay other dividends. Part of Intel’s bid involves a pledge to pour $100 million into educational partnerships with Ohio State University and others to train engineers and build up chip-related research regionally.

The key word is “regionally.” Can Northeast Ohio — the state’s traditional economic powerhouse and manufacturing center — position itself to benefit from Intel’s bet on Ohio high-tech?

Will this sit-up-and-take-notice investment light a fire under the Cleveland area’s political, educational, corporate and philanthropic leadership to set aside the silos and work together, regionally, to position this region for the next big manufacturing plays? The area has the educational assets, the transportation hubs, the manufacturing workforce, the strong cultural amenities and of course an abundant freshwater source in Lake Erie.

Greater Cleveland’s problem is that it lacks a coherent power and decision-making structure. New leadership in many of the area’s institutions and at Cleveland City Hall and, soon, in the Cuyahoga County executive’s offices offers a chance to start to fix that. And despite state investments in a health-care-oriented half-billion-dollar Cleveland Innovation District, the region still lags in capitalizing on its strengths in health care, chemistry, engineering and freshwater to lure 21st-century manufacturing here. With reshoring happening — that’s what Intel’s $100 billion play is all about — let’s get a piece of it.

Intel’s bet on Ohio could also have positive impacts by finally nudging the General Assembly to bring Ohio into the 21st century on energy and workforce policy.

In announcing the Intel project, the DeWine administration said it will be “the largest single private sector company investment in Ohio’s history.”

Translation: Intel’s preferences for green energy and an inclusive workforce will carry extra weight — maybe even more than legislators’ traditional deference to electric utilities, with their preference for brown energy over green that resulted in the still-unrepealed anti-alternative-energy provisions of scandal-wracked House Bill 6.

The Intel project is expected to heavily emphasize green energy and green technology, Time magazine reported “the company hopes to power the new factories with 100% renewable energy and achieve net positive water use.”

That is very good news for Ohio’s environment and for the state’s emerging solar- and wind-energy installers and generators, hitherto greeted with skepticism by a legislature that’s ignored, or at best undervalued, Ohio’s enormous potential for wind energy. Intel’s arrival should spur positive Statehouse thinking on Ohio’s energy future.

Meanwhile, while some Ohio cities, including Cleveland, Akron and Columbus – using their home rule powers – have enacted local workplace fairness ordinances, there is no statewide fairness law, which leaves many LGBTQ Ohioans vulnerable to discrimination.

As it happens, Intel is among the nation’s corporate pacesetters in opposing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. A year ago this month, Intel was recognized for its workplace inclusivity by Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index and Bloomberg’s Gender-Equality Index. In announcing Intel’s recognition, an Intel diversity and inclusion executive made this comment: “Diverse teams with diverse perspectives are more creative and innovative. At Intel, we strive to create an environment where employees have the confidence and room to bring their full skills and abilities to work each day.”

Translation: Intel is likely to lend its weight to passage of the bipartisan Ohio Fairness Act (Senate Bill 119), reintroduced last March by Sens Nickie Antonio, a Lakewood Democrat, and Michael Rulli, a Salem Republican whose district include the Youngstown area. The Fairness bill’s co-sponsors include Sen. Matt Dolan, a Chagrin Falls Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate.

Senate Bill 119 would prohibit discrimination in Ohio on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, and is backed by a statewide coalition, Ohio Business Competes, which represents a vast number of Ohio enterprises, big and small, ranging from athletics to manufacturing, including the Cleveland Guardians and Cincinnati Reds; the Cleveland Clinic; Great Lakes Brewing; the Huntington National Bank; JPMorgan Chase Bank; Key Bank; Lubrizol Corp.; and University Hospitals, to name just a few on a long, long roster.

If Intel’s arrival spurs Greater Cleveland to adopt a more collaborative process of restructuring for the future and Ohio Statehouse leaders to recognize economic opportunity in alternative energy and inclusive growth, its New Albany investment will truly have had a statewide impact.

— Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 30.