Thursday, June 04, 2009

Ohio lawmakers outraged at use of stimulus funds in NCR deal

By Jessica Wehrman Staff Writer
Updated 7:12 AM Thursday, June 4, 2009

WASHINGTON — NCR's news release touting its decision to move jobs from Dayton to the Atlanta, Ga. suburbs includes one factoid that has Ohio lawmakers in a fury: The City of Columbus, Ga. plans to use federal stimulus dollars to buy a building and construct another to accommodate the 870 manufacturing jobs expected to come to the that Atlanta suburb.

"The fact that economic stimulus dollars were used to move an Ohio company to Georgia at taxpayer expense is an outrage," said state Sen. Jon Husted. U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Columbus, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-West Chester and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also fired off angry missives. U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, drafted a letter to President Obama.

There's one problem, according to Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington. The city doesn't have the $5 million it applied for in stimulus money yet. Nor does it know if it will receive that money.

"We haven't received a penny of federal funds and we don't know whether we will or not," he said. "We put up the money - but if we could get a little help along the way, it would be good."

Still, just the possibility that stimulus money could be used to lure jobs away from Ohio has lawmakers frothing.

Said Tiberi, "Federal stimulus money is being used to create winners and losers among workers in different states and that's just not right; it's dirty." Boehner's spokeswoman also sounded the alarm.

"Ohio lawmakers who voted for the so-called stimulus package before anyone even had a chance to read it need to explain why they voted for legislation that let another state woo away Dayton's only Fortune 500 company, resulting in a devastating economic and emotional blow to our region," said spokeswoman Jessica Towhey.

And Brown was drafting a letter to Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke late Wednesday arguing that economic recovery funds should be used to create jobs, not relocate them.

Wetherington said they have asked NCR to correct their press release, and said the $8 million package they used to lure NCR included $6.5 million from the city and $1.5 million from the state. He said the city is prepared to pay the $6.5 million from its own coffers but is hoping that the stimulus money will come through and make the bill a little less steep.

If it doesn't come through, he said, he believes the city can pay off the obligation within 10 years. The city council has approved the expenditure, he said.

NCR spokesman Jeff Dudash said virtually all of the jobs that will leave Dayton will go to Duluth, Ga., not the Columbus manufacturing site. The work that will be done in Columbus, he said, is currently being done by a Columbia, S.C. company that NCR contracts with.

The Columbia site, Dudash said, "is a great facility for NCR to bring manufacturing jobs into," he said.

Wetherington said he understood that people in Ohio were upset. "But you know, they announced they were moving, they were looking for sites and our development authority jumped on it," he said. He said the city has been working on getting the jobs for about four months and were originally notified that NCR was looking or a new site for a manufacturing plant by the state of Georgia.

He said Columbus competed with a number of cities, including one in Tennessee and Savannah, Ga., for the selection.

Wetherington said he is hopeful the city will receive stimulus money for this project.

"We think this project certainly applies to what President Obama said," Wetherington said. "He wants projects that are ready to go."

Still, Ohio lawmakers appeared prepared to fight against Columbus, Ga's bid for federal dollars late Wednesday.

"I hope our federal officials will act swiftly to stop this expenditure of tax dollars that would allow one state to lure away jobs from another state," Husted said.

Turner argued if Columbus gets the money, Ohioans could pay interest on federal money spent to help take jobs from the state. And, he said, any federal money used to consolidate NCR operations in Georgia is money used to take jobs from Ohio.

“Even if it’s money for a portion of the project, as far as I’m concerned it’s being used toward the entire project,” he said.

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