STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — An eastern Ohio city that's been a poster child for the successes and struggles of American manufacturing becomes the first site outside Columbus for a State of the State speech, as Gov. John Kasich prepares to set out his agenda for the coming year.
Kasich is expected to highlight the themes of education and shale gas drilling in Tuesday's address in Steubenville, a once proud steel-production center along the Ohio River.
Spokesman Rob Nichols said the location choice wasn't arbitrary. It plays to the Republican governor's priorities.
Kasich chose Wells Academy, the top-ranked public elementary school in the state, as the venue to bring attention to a school that's been able to hit achievement marks without a big budget.
Steubenville is also "the beating heart at the center of Ohio's shale play," Nichols said — offering Kasich an opportunity to tout gas and oil industry investments that are bringing blue-collar jobs back to the region.
The speech is a chance for him to reconnect with voters after last year's bitter campaign over public worker union limits. A bill overhauling Ohio's collective bargaining law was repealed by voters in November.
Outside the school, housed at Steubenville High School, about 100 demonstrators who gathered outside the school. Some came to oppose the use of hydraulic fracturing to reach Ohio's oil and gas resources, while others demonstrated in support of the Occupy movement.
Shane Hanley, 47, a locked-out worker with Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. and member of the steelworker's union, drove the 3.5 hours to Steubenville from Findlay.
He and four others came to "let the governor know we ain't forgotten what he did last year."
He said the steelworkers were instrumental in getting the voters to reject the collective bargaining law. "The union movement ain't going away and don't forget that."
Neither Kasich's critics nor his close advisers expected Tuesday's address to be detail-heavy. Kasich dislikes delivering prepared speeches and shuns teleprompters. Aides initially estimated his first State of the State speech last year would last 15 minutes; it then went well over the allotted hour.
On Monday, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern predicted "an extended speech with little in the way of nouns, adverbs, subjects and predicates."
Redfern assembled reporters ahead of the speech to tout the role he says was played by President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and other Democrats in the jobs recovery that he expects Kasich to highlight.
Ohio unemployment fell to 8.1 in December, down from 8.5 in November and from 9.5 in December 2010.
"It's not about moving Bob Evans across town. It's about investing in American automobile jobs that help real communities like Defiance in a tangible, trackable, empirical way," said Redfern, referring to the relocation and expansion of Bob Evans Restaurants from Columbus to neighboring New Albany. "That's what this president did along with Senator Brown and others, and no amount of looking the other way by this governor will change that."
Kasich spearheaded the creation of JobsOhio, a private, nonprofit job creation board that will use proceeds from state liquor profits to invest in economic development. The deal is complex, and it took much of his first year to iron out technical details, navigate legislative approval, and field legal challenges.
The governor has credited new policies he says have made the state more business-friendly.
Nichols said Kasich will address the role of Ohio's two-year community colleges in helping get students and displaced workers prepared to take 80,000 unfilled jobs in industries in the state that lack qualified workers.
He said the governor also will touch on adding public education dollars to the classroom "for instruction as opposed to administration."
Steelworker Hanley said he would like to hear that the governor is going to bring jobs back to the state.
"Not just minimum wage jobs, but good-paying jobs — $15, $16, $17 an hour jobs because that's what you gotta have to survive anymore," he said. "It's time to bring the jobs back, quit sending them out to your buddies that's got corporations and stuff. Quit letting them make all the money because the economy don't run without us."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich: http://www.governor.ohio.gov
Associated Press Writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report.