STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (AP) -- Gov. John Kasich announced a plan to boost to broadband network speeds, introduced a new award honoring courageous Ohioans and said shale drilling shouldn't come at the expense of the environment in an annual State of the State speech mostly devoid of big initiatives.
Kasich spoke for nearly 90 minutes in a rambling, unfocused address in the auditorium of an elementary school in Steubenville, the first time the speech has been given outside of Columbus.
He said the state has come far from a year ago when it faced an $8 billion budget hole and was ranked 48th nationally in job creation.
"We just looked at the problems honestly," Kasich said. "If you look at a problem and you see what it is, and you design a solution, it's amazing how far you can go."
Kasich announced a program that will use new technology to open up the state's broadband infrastructure. The Ohio Board of Regents said the state will invest about $10 million to connect areas around the state with the faster network connections.
Kasich's new "Governor's Courage Awards" honored a woman who lost her son to prescription painkiller addiction, another woman who survived being a victim of human trafficking to become a social worker, and the family of a soldier killed in Afghanistan.
He also said the state needs to allow felons who have served their time to work certain jobs such as cutting hair or driving trucks that are currently off-limits.
A few protesters temporarily interrupted the speech about an hour and 10 minutes into it, as Kasich was talking about drilling for natural gas in eastern Ohio.
"We can't degrade the environment at the same time we're developing this industry," Kasich said.
His speech also included a few comments that puzzled listeners, such as when he said that he "never looked back" when he left politics, presumably referring to his time in Congress. He was elected as a Republican governor in 2010.
He also referred to people in California as "wackadoodles." And he had no sooner told the emotional stories of his first two courage award winners than he added, "We don't want to see those on eBay, ladies."
The speech was 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 A bill overhauling Ohio's collective bargaining law was repealed by voters in November.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.
It went nearly one hour and 25 minutes on Tuesday.
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.
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 writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus and Ann Sanner in Steubenville contributed to this report.