JobsOhio spent $1.34 million in state grant money on a feel-good marketing campaign to trumpet an economic re-awakening in the state and collect real people success stories that can be used in future advertising campaigns. But some of the testimonials on the campaign website used came from JobsOhio board members and contractors.
“The spirit of the campaign is one of hope, energy, and passion. Right here in Ohio, we’re creating the right environment for people and businesses to thrive and grow,” according to the JobsOhio 2012 annual report. The campaign spent $463,257 on TV spots and $744,743 on print ads that, in part, touted the website, ThriveInOhio.com.
ThriveInOhio.com features remarks from JobsOhio board members and contractors, including Jon Leeke whose company Wired Campaigns was paid $138,204, including $25,675 to put together the website.
“@thriveinohio - I’ve done business in multiple states, none better than Ohio. Low taxes, great talent, even better people” is a testimonial posted on the website and attributed to Leeke’s Twitter handle, @wiredcampaigns.
And Edward Burghard of The Burghard Group in Loveland offered glowing comments about Ohio’s communications infrastructure and assistance for start-up businesses.
Eric Burghard and his company were paid $91,205 by JobsOhio, according to invoices billed for the state grant money.
The website includes testimonials from three JobsOhio board members: Bob Evans Farms Chief Executive Steven Davis, Reliable Staffing Services owner Larry Kidd and Manta Media Chief Executive Pamela Springer.
Davis is quoted in part saying: “Ohio is where our company was founded – it’s the site of our roots and our brand heritage – and we’re committed to growing our company here.”
The same quote appeared in a Bob Evans press release in March 2011 when the company announced it was moving its corporate headquarters from Columbus to New Albany, an upscale suburb. Gov. John Kasich, who said the company could have moved to Texas, put together an $11 million state incentives package for Bob Evans to stay in Ohio.
“Stories on the ‘Thrive’ page of the ThriveInOhio website were submitted by a wide-range of company owners and executives whose businesses are finding success in Ohio and, yes, why wouldn’t the positive testimonials of board members be included? They are helping elevate the profile of Ohio as a great state for business – a rising tide lifts all boats,” said JobsOhio spokeswoman Laura Jones in an email response to questions about the campaign.
She noted that JobsOhio considers the ThriveInOhio campaign a success. But Democrats have been calling for an investigation of JobsOhio’s marketing campaign, including Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald and state Rep. John Patrick Carney, D-Columbus.
“These ads are an improper waste of state funds and seem intended to boost your gubernatorial re-election effort rather than actually help with economic development here in-state,” FitzGerald wrote to Kasich last fall.
JobsOhio is a private non-profit established two years ago by Kasich and the GOP-controlled General Assembly. During its start-up, it was funded by state grants and private donations but will now have access to $100 million a year in bond proceeds stemming from state liquor business profits.
Lawmakers also made JobsOhio exempt from public records and open meetings laws and most state ethics laws. Financial information about the ThriveInOhio campaign is public because it was paid for by a state grant.
Kasich spokeswoman Connie Wehrkamp called attacks on JobsOhio politically motivated and said that JobsOhio has more oversight than the previous state Department of Development.
JobsOhio undergoes a private audit, has conflict of interest policies, submits an annual report to the IRS and managers and board members file confidential financial disclosure statements to the Ohio Ethics Commission. However, its employees are not subject to state ethics laws that bar conflicts of interest and their pay and benefits are not publicly disclosed by name.
State Auditor Dave Yost successfully fought for JobsOhio financial records for 2011 and 2012 but lawmakers rushed through a bill that bars the auditor from conducting future state audits.
Yost spokeswoman Carrie Bartunek said an audit is currently underway by state staff and it’ll be publicly released. No timetable for its completion is available.