(TNS) — As the Franklin County Auditor's Office prepares to become the first in Ohio, to use blockchain technology to transfer property deeds, lawmakers say it's time for the state to capitalize on what some call the Internet's next leap forward.
Blockchain, which is most often associated with Bitcoin, the world's largest cryptocurrency, holds the promise of not only improving government efficiency and security, but, if pursued correctly, can make the state a magnet for high-tech jobs, said House Speaker Ryan Smith.
"This is so new and just starting to take shape that we can position Ohio out front and, most importantly put it out in a way that gives our kids...an opportunity to stay in Ohio and not have the brain drain to the West Coast," Smith, R-Bidwell, said Thursday. "It's a great opportunity for Ohio to really start the economic engine on a different perspective."
Smith said he wants to soon start convening meetings around the state to get people more comfortable with the technology and better understand how it can be applied to state government services and records.
Blockchain stores and distributes information across a network of computers, making it widely accessible but also decentralized and more secure. Under the concept, instead of stealing from a person by robbing his bank, a person's money is kept in hundreds of banks, and stealing it would require robbing each one at the same time.
Franklin County Auditor Clarence Mingo says the technology will one day be as significant to businesses as the development of email in the early 1990s.
"It's important that government be forward-thinking and keeps pace with this new technological development," Mingo said.
Mingo envisions a day when all property transfer records are done via blockchain in a fully digital process where the buyer, seller, bank, appraiser and title company never meet, but still complete the sale of a home.
"It's nearly hack-proof, but still gives each party total control of their aspect of that transaction," Mingo said. "The speed of that is remarkable. If things happen faster, they generally cost less."
Mingo is working with Columbus startup SafeChain on Tuesday to test blockchain on the transfer about three dozen properties via the office's forfeited properties sale.
Tony Franco, CEO of SafeChain, said his 18-month-old company also is working with county officials in Washington and Perry counties.
"You need to have government partners who are willing to test, build out and learn while the infrastructure is being built," he said. "The state signaling that they are open to do business and willing to collaborate is incredibly important."
Mingo said having state government explore the use of blockchain also signals to local governments that "it's a prudent use of taxpayer dollars to begin exploring and eventually using this type of technology."
Lawmakers passed a bill in June to include blockchain in the section of state law dealing with electronic signatures and electronic records.
Smith also said the state could combine efforts to draw blockchain jobs with federal opportunity zones that use tax incentives to encourage investments in low-income areas.
"There are a very short list of states and government entities, internationally and in the U.S. that are actually embarking on this journey," said Bernie Moreno, president of Ownum in Cleveland and a leader in trying to make the city a hub of blockchain activity.
"There is a lot money sitting out there to take advantage of opportunity zones and make investments in (Ohio cities),"
Franco said Ohio is taking small steps in the right direction.
Getting the state interested in the technology "certainly will, in the long term, open pipelines for jobs, venture capitalists and companies," he said. "We're seeing public-private partnerships with government happen more and more."
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