Ohio reaps jobs from US, foreign investment

``What's that Nissan truck doing in this driveway?'' Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste is clearly amused as he climbs into an American-made limousine at the General Motors (GM) training center in this Cleveland suburb.

He has just delivered a rousing speech on the merits of investing in Ohio and US-made cars at a GM plant-expansion ceremony.

Yet, like every governor these days, he clearly welcomes all the overseas investment he can get. Just last week Governor Celeste left on a three-week trip to China and India where he plans to promote Ohio exports and encourage investment in Ohio-made products.

In the meantime, Celeste is pleased that Honda Motor Company is spending $42 million to expand its Shelby County plant to produce car as well as motorcycle engines. The company also plans to expand its plant in Marysville.

Hoping for more such gains, he entertained a top Honda official on a fishing retreat at his Lake Erie vacation home just a few weeks ago. And he still hopes Ohio can lure the auto-assembly plant jointly planned by Mitsubishi and Chrysler.

But talking about it all in a recent Monitor interview, the governor puts the blame squarely on Washington lawmakers for not doing more to bring the high dollar down. He also points to the lack of an aggressive program to build US exports and lure overseas investment.

On trade missions, he says, foreign peoples often tell him how eager they are to have US-made products. Celeste finds it a source of ``great [personal] frustration'' to see foreign cultural-and-policy barriers combine with an unclear US trade policy to work against US exports. The American public is tired of it, he says.

``I think the trade issue is the single most critical street issue there is,'' Celeste says. ``People see a tidal wave of foreign imports knocking us apart. I think there's very strong pressure to . . . to put the squeeze on countries building up huge foreign-exchange surpluses.''

The governor says he is pleased that 34,000 jobs, ``the equivalent of five Saturn plants,'' have been added in Ohio since the first of the year.

Yet, the governor readily admits his state still faces tremendous problems with an unemployment rate of more than 9 percent and a recovery that is ``at best flat and may be slipping the other way.''

He says he does not expect many more Ohio jobs to come from auto or steel manufacturing.

The current challenge for his state is to broaden its manufacturing base and try harder to apply high technology to both products and processes.

As proof it's happening, he points to Ohio's Stolle Corporation which has produced auto trim for the last five decades but recently began also to manufacture solid magnetic disks for computers.

He cites as another in which the Thomas Edison partnership, funnels state and private money to applied research centers at several Ohio universities that explore everything from welding to polymers.

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