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Ohio, Texas politicians headline GlobalTies luncheon
Diplomatic Pouch / February 4, 2016

By Larry Luxner

Ohio’s lieutenant-governor and the mayor of Dallas explained to more than 400 people — including diplomats from more than 50 countries — why international issues matter at the state and municipal level.

Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings were keynote speakers at a Jan. 29 “Luncheon With the Ambassadors.” The event was one of many during the three-day GlobalTies U.S. 2016 National Meeting at Washington’s Omni Shoreham Hotel.

Ambassadors representing 40 nations from Algeria to Zimbabwe, and a dozen deputy chiefs of mission, listened as Taylor explained why, among other things, the Buckeye State has pushed so hard to attract foreign students to its world-class universities (including luncheon sponsor Franklin University, which has grown from its main campus in Columbus, Ohio’s capital city, to more than 20 locations in numerous states).

“We are creating a focus that maximizes our opportunities under the student visa program. This will ensure that Ohio has a state-level, strategic approach to creating business opportunities for both our foreign and our native students,” she said. “We recognize the need for attracting international students for long-term benefit.”

Since the launch of this particular program last year, Taylor said, “we’ve increased awareness in 27 countries that Ohio drives business innovation. As lieutenant-governor, I’ve had the opportunity to focus on many things, and it’s important that we continue to bridge the gap, including stakeholders any way we can to benefit Ohioans and the relationships we have across the country and around the world.”

Global Ties U.S. is a nonprofit organization that makes international exchange programs more effective. It works with its members and the State Department to bring current and future leaders from around the world to communities across the United States.

Taylor, who was sworn in as Ohio’s second-highest official in 2011 and is now in her second term alongside Gov. John Kasich — graduated from the University of Akron with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s in taxation. She was the first CPA in history to serve as Ohio state auditor.

As Ohio’s 65th lieutenant-governor, Taylor leads the Common Sense Initiative to reform state regulatory policies; she’s also director of the Ohio Department of Insurance.

Taylor noted that northeastern Ohio, where she lives, has a large Slovak and Italian population, while Cincinnati is home to a sizeable German minority.

“With any initiative, we are very mindful of cultural diversity, making sure they have opportunities — not just for African-Americans within our state, but also immigrant populations,” she said. “We want to strengthen them in their own communities to become more successful.”

With nearly 11.6 million inhabitants, Ohio ranks as seventh in population among the 50 states. The Buckeye State is home to 23 companies on the Fortune 500 list including paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams, glassmaker Owens Corning, merchandiser Macy’s and consumer products giant Procter & Gamble.

Right behind Ohio is the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, home to 21 Fortune 500 companies. Among its other accolades, says its mayor: DFW is the nation’s fourth-busiest airport, Dallas boasts the largest arts district in the United States, it has the country’s largest collection of Islamic art, and it was ranked first in the nation for small businesses last year.

“This year we will host the World Travel and Tourism Conference, and in 2021, we will have the first high-speed rail in the U.S., a combination of American enterprise with Japanese technology,” said Rawlings. “The Economist called our area ‘Boomtown USA,’ noting that our inclusive approach to economic growth means middle-class families are thriving, not just millionaires and billionaires.”

Even so, said Rawlings, “income disparity is a big challenge. Fifteen billionaires live in Dallas, but we also have the nation’s largest percentage of children living in poverty.”

Dallas, home to 1.25 million people, sprawls across 13 counties and five area codes. The DFW Metroplex, with nearly seven million inhabitants, is the largest landlocked metropolitan area in the United States.

Rawlings, a former CEO of Pizza Hut, was elected mayor in 2011 after having served as chair of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city’s homeless czar and bark board president. Since then, he’s fought since then to elevate the city’s international profile and turn Dallas into a top destination for artists all over the world.

Rawlings elicited loud applause from his very international audience when he took a jab at Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who along with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last month tried but failed to block the resettlement of Syrian refugee families in the Lone Star State.

“Our governor decided he didn’t want any Syrian refugees, but I had a different approach. Dallas has always been a welcoming community so we put into place a plan to do that,” said Rawlings, whose city is now home to several families recently displaced by the civil war in Syria.

The event’s moderator, Stuart Holliday, CEO of the Meridian International Center, asked both speakers if they have enough resources to engage their citizenry on a global level.

“People want us to fix the potholes on their streets and make sure we have enough police officers,” Rawlings replied. “International issues are way down, with the payoffs not around the corner but in a couple of years. As leaders, you have to be pragmatic about the short-term issues, but you’ve got to build for the long term. Just do your job.”

Added Taylor: “You can sit around all day and whine about what you don’t have. There’s a time and place for that, but in Ohio, we like to focus on the tools we do have, and make the most of them. We look for common ground.”

Holliday asked both politicians to pretend they were about to meet the CEO of a major manufacturing company considering a move to either Dallas or Ohio. What would you say to lure that factory to your city or state, he prodded.

“Well, I’d say two things,” Rawlings replied. “First, we’ve got no income tax in Texas. So do you want to make the most money for your shareholders? And secondly, do you want to have a life while doing it? If you do, come to Dallas.”

Not to be outdone, Ohio’s Taylor said, “we have Midwestern values, great natural resources, abundant water and a government that knows it can’t stand in the way of business success.”

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