LIMA — It is a guaranteed question at election time for candidates: What will they do about jobs?
Mayor David Berger and challenger Doug Vermillion have fielded the question multiple times through a campaign this fall that ends Tuesday with Election Day.
Vermillion, a retired city worker, has said attracting new businesses and retaining existing businesses in the city would be his priority as mayor.
“I would like to focus on bringing some employment to our region, one for our real estate taxes and two for our income taxes. The more people we can get to work, the more income the city will have,” Vermillion said. “My priority is getting our people back to work and getting them back to work will generate funds for the city.”
However, when he's been asked about details, how he would accomplish that, he has said he would have to wait until he is elected to figure that out.
Answering a question about reaching out to new industries or businesses at a candidate forum hosted by the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce, Vermillion didn't have specifics.
“I would have to look into some research and speak to some of the folks in the economic development industry to find out what our niche would be to try to attract those industries to our area,” Vermillion said. “It's going to take some time; it's going to take some research, and it's going to take a lot of talking to show what our strong points are and two, to get them to look at us and not someone else.”
Berger, who is running for his seventh term, said local governments and private industry have invested heavily to position the city to take advantage of opportunities in food manufacturing, process manufacturing and advanced manufacturing.
“Those are all businesses that are growing and that I believe we will continue to grow because we have a specific set of human resources here, skilled and trained individuals, who are every day successfully operating those businesses,” Berger said. “Long term, we can compete in areas with research and development. We have demonstrated ourselves capable of competing with other larger communities in Ohio to secure state and federal money to partner with local industry to focus on manufacturing technologies.”
At the chamber's candidate forum, Vermillion challenged Berger's assertion in his campaign literature that he helped create 12,000 jobs.
“I want to take that and give a lesson in mayor math 101,” Vermillion said. The numbers don't add up, Vermillion concluded, because of the city's population of 38,339, the population of working adults about 24,000 between 18 and 65, and the city's unemployment rate.
“If you do the math, there's not many jobs he's not claiming responsibility for,” Vermillion said.
Berger said the 12,000 jobs are accumulated over several years, and verified by Allen Economic Development Group. Also, the number of people who work in the city and the number of people who live in the city are two different sets of data.
The city's unemployment rate has consistently been about a point higher than the overall county's for more than a decade. Berger defended his record on economic development, saying the community has defended well its business and industry during the past 10 years, using task forces to advocate for and support important industries.
The Lima Auto Task Force formed to support the Lima Ford Engine Plant and grow business there and is now working to bring together the 200 auto industry companies in the region, to get them to know each other and do business with each other. Task Force LIMA supports the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center and kept the facility off a military closure list in 2005. Today the task force is working on keeping the Abrams tank line warm with minimal production.
“I know of no other way to get there other than a task force structure,” Berger said.
Berger has tried to address the city's unemployment rate by finding education and workforce training opportunities for residents. The city received a cash award from the U.S. Economic Development Administration for its handling of an EDA grant for a water line and other infrastructure for a new ethanol plant in the city.
Berger worked with Apollo Career Center and Rhodes State College to create free training for city residents to get qualified in process manufacturing. The training qualified them to work at some of the city's high-paying employers, such as Procter & Gamble, Ineos and Husky Lima Refinery.
“We took people wherever they were in their educational level. They could come in needing a GED or wherever they were in their educational level, and we could get them to the appropriate place and move them into this training for good paying jobs,” Berger said. “You're running pumps and handling material, 365 days a year. That's a skill set our community has a history with, and there is a continuing need for additional well trained people.”