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Columbus City Council Candidates Offer Views on Jobs.

On November 6th, Columbus voters will sort out two races for city council. A two-way contest will determine who serves out an unexpired term. In the larger race, eight candidates will compete for four seats. During candidate forums this month, candidates were often asked about city efforts to attract jobs and businesses.

The city council election occurs against the backdrop of a so-called soft real estate market and intense competition among cities and towns in Central Ohio to draw businesses and jobs to their communities. During a forum at Corpus Christi Catholic Church on East Stewart Avenue, Democratic incumbent Charleta Tavares stressed existing job training and job-creation programs.

"We have to have the trained, educated workforce for the jobs that we want to grow in our community. And certainly having a community with over 100,000 students is a great start. We graduate 20,000 students per year." Says Tavares.

"Our number one export is college graduates." Says Republican Challenger Bill Brownson. He faults the current council for what he says is its lack of effort to keep more college graduates in town.

"We are a great city. But if we're going to keep some of those people here we need to figure out better ways to introduce them to Columbus beyond the campuses and the educational environment they've got. Number two: they need to have jobs and to have jobs we need to have a sustained conversation about economic development." Says Brownson.

Another G-O-P candidate, Larry Thomas, focused on city-granted tax abatements. He suggests imposing a "residency rule" on businesses that are given city tax breaks.

"One of the things that will require for new jobs coming into Columbus is that the people that actually get the jobs, a percentage of them have to live in Columbus. So that these jobs stay with people so that our neighborhood has employment is that when new jobs, or new creation and we give tax abatements that those companies that receive abatements from Columbus, not only hire workers who move outside of Columbus once they get the jobs, but a percentage of those workers must be and live in Columbus." Says Thomas.

Council President Mike Mentel countered Thomas' comments by citing the development of West Edge Park at Mound Street and Harmon Avenue. Mentel says nearby residents can walk to work and he says any changes to tax abatement policy should be carefully considered.

"That's a policy when we look at abatement. Its not codified but its a set out policy. It tells us when and when we shouldn't be giving abatements and who we should be giving them to so that we maximize the effort and the economic opportunity that we have. We need to continue again as a I said earlier, we need to be bullish on Columbus. We need to be positive on it." Says Mentel.

Fellow democratic incumbent Andrew Ginther cited tax burdens and infrastructure as two keys to Columbus' continued growth.

"One of the things we've gotta do is continue to keep our taxes low. We have the lowest combined tax burden of any major city in the state of Ohio. One of the other things we've gotta do is invest in our infrastructure, particularly as we focus on bio-medical research, the 315 corridor, as well as logistics and the development around Rickenbacker. That's something we're going to have to make sure that we're investing in." Says Ginther.

Appointed incumbent Hearcel Craig touted council's internship program as a gateway to job growth.

"One of the things that was not mentioned were internships. And we begin to, council has made a concerted effort again to do that through the John Glenn Institute as we're working with young people, bringing them on, making sure that they're interested and will stay in our community." Says Craig.

In his bid to unseat an incumbent, challenger Paul Bingle warned against paying too much attention to potential job growth.

"The economic growth of the city will come more likely on the backs of existing businesses and the responsibility of the city is insuring to those business owners that there is an open channel of communications between them and city council. We need to maintain everyday relationships with the business community." Says Bingle.

Candidate Jim O'Grady, another challenger, says council could be more effective if it deferred to an outside organization where job creation and retention is job one.

"Work with the Chamber of Commerce. This is what they do. That is their role. They market the city. And council works with them to do that. But, that is their role, that is what they do. They are a fulltime agency that markets the city, that entices companies to come to the town and to employ people." Says O'Grady.

Next Tuesday, Columbus voters will get their chance to sort out the eight-way race for council. Four republican challengers are campaigning to break up the all-democratic council. Safety and job development have emerged as two key issues during the pre-election campaign.

Tom Borgerding

WOSU News.