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Columbus Council Weighs Job Growth.

Columbus city voters tomorrow will elect three members of city council. The election occurs against the backdrop of an economic slowdown and that has all seven candidates talking about jobs.

Recent U-S census figures count more than 390,000 adults in the labor force in Central Ohio. Tens of thousands of Columbus workers have jobs in local, state, and federal government. A Business First Book of Lists shows eight of the top ten employers in the city are government entities ranging from state government to the Defense Supply Center to City Hall. Large private employers include J-P Morgan Chase, Nationwide, and Ohio Health. When asked what companies or industries would fuel future economic activity in Columbus, all three democrats, Priscilla Tyson, Troy Miller, and Eileen Paley cite health care, research and technology. Paley says Columbus needs to hold on to some of its new research applications.

"Most of the patents and copyrights that are coming out of our research areas like Battelle and Ross Labs are going elsewhere. We would prefer to keep them here and do more cluster companies that feed off of the resources that we already have." Says Paley.

Troy Miller says the city would do well to recruit small companies to the city which have potential for major growth. He says the city needs to develop an entrepreneurial culture.

"Why can't Columbus be the next birthplace of a Oracle or Sun Microsystems or a Dell. Those are the type of particular jobs that I believe that Columbus can be poised in position to have if we plan for it. So, my goal is to have that culture of what you call, we're going to be, when you say high tech, we're talking about, technology is just not an industry by itself, but its, technology is part of every industry." Says Miller.

Fellow democrat Priscilla Tyson cites the city's efforts to develop a so-called tech corridor along Route 315 from Ohio State University to downtown.

"A lot of new jobs and businesses are coming out of our tech core and tech Columbus. And so I'm excited about that area. There'll be some jobs in the logistics area. I'm looking at Rickenbacker that will be a growing area for us." Says Tyson.

City officials are pinning some hopes for Rickenbacker on railroad improvements that would make a link from Columbus to the east coast quicker. Independent candidate Joe Motil says the city's health care industry with its expanding hospitals will be the greatest generator of new jobs in the coming years.

"And I think our health care industry here in Columbus is great and will be very beneficial to people, young people, who want to stay here in Columbus." Says Motil.

All three republican challengers in tomorrow's council race, bringing more of a neighborhood perspective to the jobs issue. Rose Ann Hicks helps operate a family-owned sandwich shop in a small strip center near the corner of Morse and Maize roads. The Northland area lost its mall several years ago and since then the city has spend millions of dollars in improvements on Morse road from I-71 to Westerville Road. Huntington Bank brought some jobs to an office building at Morse and Cleveland. But, Hicks says small business owners have suffered economically.

"From a personal perspective, our business has suffered over the past four years. In the meantime we've seen Toys R Us leave, we just saw the closing of Hollywood Video leave. We've seen several car dealerships close or are on the verge of closing. Beautification efforts are great. But its about engaging the community to let them know that shopping locally is so important." Says Hicks.

Alicia Healy is also vying to unseat one of the three democrats in the race. She says the city generally and her Driving Park neighborhood in particular has too few jobs. She thinks council should actively woo manufacturing jobs to replace some of those lost in recent years at places like Techneglas or Delphi.

"We have a 20% unemployment rate within Columbus. And most people don't know that and that's really in our inner city. Our inner city people need jobs. And the jobs that they're working are not jobs that will sustain their families so we need to bring manufacturing back and we need to bring warehousing back." Says Healy.

Candidate Matt Ferris says Council should do what it can to stay out of the way of business. Ferris says city government should promote or seek to attract more entrepreneurs to grow the city's job base.

"Nobody at city hall ever sat down and said you know what, we need to have a Cardinal Health here or we need to have a burger franchise here. Nobody planned that. That was the entrepreneurial spirit taking over. We need to create an environment that all businesses can prosper and let the entrepreneurs decide what Columbus is going to look like in the future. " Says Ferris.

Matt Ferris, Alicia Healy, Rose Ann Hicks, and Joe Motil all seek new jobs on city council. Voters will decide tomorrow whether to give any one of them a council seat. Democrats Priscilla Tyson, Troy Miller and Eileen Paley are trying to hold on to their jobs at city hall. Polls open tomorrow morning at 6:30.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News