Interview with Bob Taft – Past Ohio Governor and Distinguished Research Associate at University of Dayton
Bob Taft, was elected to two terms of office as the Governor of Ohio between 1999-2007. He is now a Distinguished Research Associate at the University of Dayton. I first met Bob in his second term as Governor when he reached out to Procter & Gamble for support to help create the Ohio Business Development Coalition, a public/private partnership to build and sustain a globally competitive Ohio brand. Bob foresaw the need for Ohio to master place branding as an operational capability to effectively attract, retain and expand capital investment in an increasingly interdependent global economy. I credit Bob with getting me interested in place branding, so it only seemed fitting to reach out to him once again and get his perspective on the challenges facing Brand America.
- Question: The latest economic crisis has clearly demonstrated how interdependent the global economy is. Do you believe states are increasingly competing with other countries for capital investment?
There is no question that Ohio is competing with countries around the world for new capital investment. This may be especially true with respect to Ohio based companies who may choose to locate new production outside the country. European or Asian companies seeking to enter or expand in the U.S. market may also consider a location in Ohio or the Midwest compared to a location in Canada, Mexico or South America.
- Question: What role do you see FDI inflow playing in state strategic plans for economic development?
FDI is very important for a state like Ohio. Because of our location and other factors, we are already a very significant platform for foreign investment to serve the North American market, with more than 900 foreign owned companies in Ohio. During my tenure as Governor a significant share of new investment came from European and Asian companies. For this reason, the trade missions I led to Europe, Canada and Japan were a priority.
- Question: Branding is increasingly being considered by states to help become more competitive for FDI attraction. Is branding simply telling your story better? Or is creating a better story through public policy reform also an important step in the branding process?
You have to have the right policy (like our tax reform) but you also have to do the branding to get people to pay attention to a state in the first place. The right policies should reinforce the brand.
- Question: The data suggest Brand America’s image is not as strong as it once was globally. Do you think improving state level branding will ultimately help strengthen Brand America?
Governors are more focused on promoting their states than the federal government is on promoting America. There are too many competing federal priorities. Often states and their governors and economic development leaders can have a more direct, immediate impact on potential foreign investors in encouraging them to consider investing in the USA.
- How optimistic are you about the future of Brand America? What are the biggest challenges for Brand America that you see to reversing the declining share of global FDI?
I am concerned about Brand America, especially given the financial meltdown the country has experienced and the bankruptcies of companies like General Motors. First, the US needs to deal with the availability of domestic capital for businesses to grow. Second, there may be an impression that that the US is a high cost place to do business because of the burden of health insurance costs on employers, labor union policies in parts of the country and the threat of excessive litigation. And the US needs to improve education and schools so a high percentage of students are ready to be productive workers or successful in college after high school. The availability of talent and an educable, productive workforce will be a key factor in competing for new business investment. The total US population is not growing rapidly so we must educate a higher proportion to ever-higher levels. Finally, the US needs to deal with an excessively restrictive immigration policy with respect to skilled workers – the limits on H1 visas are absurdly low and a barrier to investment by higher tech companies that need workers with skills and knowledge.