|By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell and his running mate, Lt. Gov. nominee Tom Raga, believe agriculture can be part of Ohio’s future economic growth - including economic development and jobs, Raga said.
“Our platform is different from some politicians of the past,” said Raga, who is finishing his third term in the Ohio House of Representatives serving the 67th District in Warren County. He has a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., but admitted he is “a child of suburbia.”
“My impression is that, in the past, Ohio political folks have patted farmers on the back and thanked them for the work they’ve done, but that’s as far as it’s gone. There hasn’t been incentive targeted for the farm community.”
Three ag issues hold Raga’s attention, he said. First is ethanol. Blackwell and Raga believe - with the new intermodal railway - Ohio can be the ethanol supplier to the East Coast.
“We are the first substantive farming state west of that whole region that would have the ability to produce enough corn and do the refining to churn out the volume that will be needed on the East Coast,” Raga said.
Livestock production was another area of interest. Raga said his eyes were opened after talking with agricultural groups.
“There seems to be substantial capacity to increase livestock production in Ohio, either by growing existing operations or with new operations,” Raga said.
Exporting grain is another option for increasing ag opportunities, Raga said. While a lot is heard about that topic, Raga said it has not been prioritized.
One way to finance these opportunities without raising taxes is by leasing the Ohio turnpike, Raga said.
That will create an investment pool of $4-$6 billion, Raga said. Those monies can be invested, in part, in ethanol production facilities, in helping suppliers put additional tanks in at the gas pumps, or in incentives to increase production.
In addition, Raga said he and Blackwell thought the Department of Development needed to be expanded.
That department needed to work toward economic growth and job expansion.
Along with that, trade missions also need to be expanded and they should work both ways.
“I think we also need to host foreign nations here and bring them in so they can see the potential, also,” Raga said. “We need to have an aggressive Department of Development and a governor who is not only going out and telling people about Ohio but bringing them here.”
One of the best short-term changes that has been done to help agriculture was to move the regulatory practices to ODA, Raga said.
“We’re fearful that that could reverse itself if we’re not elected,” Raga said. “We’re very supportive of the job that ODA has done from the regulatory side of it. It’s as much making sure that farmers and other businesses can conduct business in an arena of regulatory certainty and having the department that will cut through that red tape and make sure that those who want to be in Ohio have a smooth ability to set up operations.”