Kinzel touts Ohio business climate

SANDUSKY Ohio means business -- and state officials want to spread that word to other top executives
Annie Zelm
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Ohio means business -- and state officials want to spread that word to other top executives.

To illustrate the message, they're using a familiar face who says he's achieved the perfect balance between career success and a rich personal life here.

A Wall Street Journal advertisement features Cedar Fair CEO Dick Kinzel positioned between a photo of him riding a roller coaster and a more serene image of him relaxing along Lake Erie with his family.

"It's the people -- especially on the North Coast of Ohio -- that make it a success," Kinzel said. "It's easy to work with the government here; you have the lake and a good balance of the four seasons, which makes it easy to do business here."

The ad is part of an ongoing campaign spearheaded by the Ohio Business Coalition, which seeks to promote Ohio as an attractive place to do business.

Within the past two years, the nonprofit partnership responsible for branding Ohio released ads featuring more than 50 success stories of business men and women in the Buckeye State. Kinzel shares the spotlight with CEOs from companies such as the Parker Hannifin Corp., Procter & Gamble and the Great Lakes Science Center.

Ohio Business Development Coalition executive director Ed Burghard said one of Ohio's key competitive points is the opportunity to achieve success without sacrificing a personal life.

"Our objective is to tip the balance ... so that instead of asking 'Why Ohio?' people will start asking 'Why not Ohio?'" Burghard said.

Other factors that give the state a competitive edge are its location, tax reform and workforce, he said.

Ohio is within 600 miles of 60 percent of the U.S. population and 50 percent of the Canadian population -- making it the only state in which exports have increased each year since 1998, according to the coalition. With the increase in fuel costs, a central location is more important than ever.

Since 2006, when state officials first enacted tax reforms, Burghard said its leaders have seen more companies with global operations considering doing business in Ohio.

As a state with a strong manufacturing heritage, Ohio has the experience and resources to get the job done. Though the state's ranking is mediocre in terms of the percentage of population who are college-educated, Burghard said what is more important to business leaders is the absolute number of graduates.

"We're eighth in the nation in producing graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher," he said. "If you're an executive looking to build your company, our university system is graduating a lot of the talent they want."

Burghard said his coalition gauges the success of its campaign through research that measures the overall perception of Ohio in the business community.

Since 2006, when the campaign began alongside other capital investment projects, he said Ohio's brand strength improved by 2 percent overall and by 11 percent among Ohio-based executives.

Kinzel, who started at Cedar Point in 1972 as a midway supervisor and moved up the ladder to become CEO and president in 1986, conceded Ohio still has a few strikes against it in terms of competitiveness.

Its tax burden was ranked the seventh-highest in the nation in 2008, according to the Tax Foundation.

Kinzel said state officials are starting to catch on, however, and cited an initiative to phase out the personal property tax. Another is a bill pushing the school starting date until after Labor Day to boost seasonal businesses.

Cedar Fair employs 8,000 seasonal and 400 full-time employees in Ohio -- paying out $81 million each year to state residents.

"I know people want the (manufacturing) industry base back here in Ohio, but it's just not going to happen," Kinzel said. "You have to play the cards you're dealt ... and tourism is a tremendous industry in this part of the state. That's our future."