Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Former lawmaker moves to economic development

Vesper sees opportunities for downtown, regionalism

        There is one major difference Rose Vesper sees between her new and old jobs.

        As a state representative, Ms. Vesper guided constituents through the maze of state bureaucracy to solve problems.

        She did it so often and so well for southeast Clermont, Brown and Clinton counties that she consistently earned high marks as one of Ohio's most effective legislators.

[photo] Rose Vesper, an Ohio state representative for four terms, is now Gov. Bob Taft's regional economic development representative for Hamilton, Butler, Warren and Clermont counties.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        After completing her fourth two-year term representing the 72nd District last year, the New Richmond Republican was named Gov. Bob Taft's regional economic development representative. Term limits prohibited her from running for the legislature again.

        In her new role, Ms. Vesper is the liaison between the state and Southwest Ohio's boardrooms, factories and research labs.

        Just six weeks into her new job, Ms. Vesper has discovered that being the ambassador of the region's businesses can be a “long, ongoing process.”

        Undeterred, Ms. Vesper says it's a critical time for the state's economy as it transitions from its industrial roots to the technology age. She recently sat with Enquirer reporter Ken Alltucker to discuss a wide range of topics relating to her new job.

        Question: How would you compare your current position to your days at the Statehouse?

        Answer: With both positions you're there to help the people. The difference is as a state representative, you're dealing with people that have problems. You can work through the state bureaucracy to effect change. When you're dealing with economic development for a large area, it takes time. There are so many elements in play that it takes a longer time to get things done. I am the governor's representative for this region. My job is to let people know I am here and I can connect them with the experts in Columbus, whether it's the Department of Development, the Department of Commerce, workers' comp, etc.

        Q. How important is brownfield redevelopment for Southwest Ohio's economy? The passage of Issue One sets aside $400 million for this and conservation; how are we going to get it done?

        A. These are very important projects to clean up that prevent us from developing prime locations. Whether those locations will be converted to other business operations, converted to parks, converted to housing, I think it's really important that we get these funds. I only wish there was more money to do it. I am excited by the efforts of some local groups to develop housing, especially. I think for the downtown area that is critical. We need it for the people already living here in substandard housing. I think it's also critical for some of the businesses here, especially for attracting young people.

        Q. Census estimates show Cincinnati lost more than 9 percent of its population since 1990. What can your office, through economic development, do to help curb the population loss?

        A. It seems a lot of people are moving from the outer areas closer in to communities like Hyde Park, Oakley and Mount Lookout. We need to revitalize the downtown area, make sure the safety factor is taken care of so people aren't afraid of the area. We need to continue to upgrade and support our schools. It's all interrelated. Business aren't going to want to come here if they can't find housing in a safe neighborhood that offers diversity. They don't want their kids growing up in their own little world. I think they welcome mixed neighborhoods. I think that's healthy, long overdue and we should encourage that.

        As far as the arts, Cincinnati has so much to offer. Then you go out farther to some of the areas that I represent like Warren County with the tennis that's out there and Kings Island. I am so excited by the (National Underground Railroad) Freedom Center down here. In my own mind, how we can join with Kentucky and have a special train, the Freedom Train, and run it out to Maysville, bring it out to Aberdeen and the Ripley area, then bring them to the Ohio side? It can stop on all the historic sites.

        Q. Regionalism has been a buzzword around here. Can we get individual political jurisdictions to share resources for the greater good of the region? Is it realistic?

        A. I'm an optimist. Anything enough people want to do can be done. It may take a little longer than we have anticipated. If you put enough people around a table from all different perspectives, and you keep talking, and you don't think any ideas are stupid, somebody is going to play off ideas. I think it's already working. People come to see the aquarium in Kentucky, and after that they come and see our zoo.

        Q. How can Cincinnati position itself in the world's economy?

        A. I think companies are looking for trained workers. We will continue to support our technical schools. I think the more we can continue to work with companies and position ourselves as a center of technology, because that's the direction are are going here. We are working at doing that. We have a number of initiatives going, whether it's advanced technology or our research. There is also networking going on with our universities.

        Q. Is light rail an important goal for economic development? Will it happen?

        A. It's a problem of cost, getting people out of their cars to use it. So many times a person's day is torn in different directions. You would need some kind of complementary bus line to get people where they want to go. Secondly, (there would be) the disruption of building these sites when you've already got your highways struggling to hold the traffic that's on there. They can't be closed down. The cost factor is going to be serious. I know there are people who are studying this. I think it's going to take a real effort to make it happen. I know just coming back and forth from Columbus, (traffic) is really starting to build.

        No matter how fast we build highways, they fill up with new cars. It seems I've read that there are only a handful of places where light-rail has really done the job, like New York, Washington D.C.


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