Ohio 32 might be the loneliest highway in the state. It runs due east on a ruler's edge past roads named Burnt Cabin, Steam Furnace, Black Hollow and Tater Ridge — four divided lanes of empty. If the destination is economic development, it doesn't look like you can get there from here, unless southeastern

So what brings Gov. John Kasich to this remote corner of the state on a spring day? The answer is a town called Jackson — Ohio's Klondike. A family company that started in mushroom farming — now Echo Environmental — has turned Jackson into the busiest gold and silver recycler in North America. It's the place where class rings, tea sets and grandma's sterling flatware go to be reborn as Tiffany jewelry.

The nearby town of Waverly has another surprise: a mother lode of motherboards. Rows of stove-sized boxes, crammed with the castoff innards of junked computers, await giant blue shredders under a roof that covers a jaw-dropping million square feet.

Kasich was there to hear Echo Environmental CEO Alan Stockmeister pledge: "We plan to fill this place, believe it or not."

About two dozen local and state officials applauded promises that Waverly will soon be the largest recycler of electronics in North America. But Kasich's pot of gold is not palladium, platinum, copper or silver. It's jobs.

"This part of southern Ohio has been ignored for a long time. This road doesn't even get used," he says, waving an arm at nearby Ohio 32. "We have sky-high unemployment and that means depression. I'm talking about the attitude-of-people type of depression. That leads to substance abuse. And I'm telling you it all comes down to jobs."

Echo plans to hire 250 people with a $5 million payroll. That might be couch-money to Cleveland, Cincinnati or Columbus. But this is the "other Ohio," where unemployment in Pike County is nearly 14 percent, almost double the rate in Cincinnati. And drug abuse — especially prescription pain pills — is a chronic problem.

Just as Echo sees new recycling jobs in a cavernous former cabinet factory that used to employ 850 people, Kasich's vision for Ohio stretches into the distant corners of the state where the cities seldom look. He is blunt and sincere. "I am your friend, and I am coming to you to make sure this part of Ohio begins to flourish," he says.

Kasich's JobsOhio program helped navigate regulations to make the jobs possible. But back in Columbus, the headlines tell a different story, as editorial pages strain at the gnat over open records in the public-private JobsOhio agency.

The Waverly crowd could not care less. They just want work.

Since Kasich was elected, 135,000 jobs have been created in Ohio. But 400,000 were lost under his predecessor, Ted Strickland. "I have no ceiling," Kasich says. "It's a great number, 135,000, but it's not enough."

When he's amped up, Kasich sounds like a coach. "We don't want any part of the state to be left out," he says. "I just try to do everything I can every day and leave it all on the field." And, "We have a long way back, but Ohio is winning. I don't know how we could miss unless we stumble over ourselves and kick the ball out of bounds."

He grew up in McKees Rocks, Pa., a blue-collar town near Pittsburgh, and sounds like it. He came to Ohio State University, worked at the Ohio capitol, then became the youngest state senator in Ohio history when he was elected in 1978 at the age of 26.

Elected to the U.S. House in 1983, Kasich drew national acclaim for producing a balanced budget as House Budget Committee Chairman in 1995. He has written three books, including two best-sellers; hosted his own TV show, "John Kasich's Heartland"; subbed for Bill O'Reilly on Fox News; worked as an investment banker for Lehman Brothers; and explored a run for president in 2000.

In 2010 he defeated Strickland, a Democrat from Lucasville and Portsmouth, just south of Waverly and Jackson. Now Kasich is delivering jobs to Strickland's old turf.

He probably enjoys that. He's very competitive, says his friend Bob Roach. They met 35 years ago when both worked at the capitol in Columbus. "We used to see each other at a local pub, and we would compete on (an arcade game) Breakout. We had some pretty heated matches."

Now they go to dinner and play golf with other close friends — none of whom are political. "Nothing against other politicians," Kasich says, "but can you imagine me trying to do this job if my best friends were politicians?"

Roach, an executive with Northwestern Mutual Life in Columbus, says, "He's very sensitive about helping his friends. If someone says to me, •Can you get the governor to do such and such,' I know that if I bring it up, he won't do it."

Keeping politics and friendship apart protects their mutual trust. "He vents with me. He can say things he can't say in public. It's good for him to say exactly how he feels," Roach says. And "I tell him what I think and I don't mince words.

After an evening phone call to Kasich, Roach's wife told him, "Bob, you were not very nice. That's the governor. You can't talk to him like that."

Roach replied, "If I can't, there's no reason to have been friends so long."

Kasich admits he can be blunt. "My time growing up in McKees Rocks, I learned that money and power — that doesn't mean anything to me. I respect people who have it. But I am not awed by it. That allows me to be pretty natural. I think sometimes people are taken aback by my level of directness."

He says he has learned that anything he says can and will be used against him by the press. "When I say something, they start with the speech, then work down to the paragraph, then the sentence, and now it is every word."

But, "I'm still pretty direct. My wife tells me, •You're the governor. Act like it.' "

He is direct enough to have earned a media meme as "Mr. Brash." Such as:

"Brash-and-brusque John Kasich" — Columbus Dispatch.

"Charismatic, bold and occasionally brash, his statements sometimes lacking caution" — Dayton Daily News.

"Brash Ohio budget hawk" — Los Angeles Times.

"Brash and sometimes bombastic" — Orlando Sentinel.

He's always been that way, says former U.S. congressman and Cincinnati Enquirer publisher Bill Keating. "He is brash, combative, fearless, very intense, very smart and does his homework."

But Roach has watched Kasich mature. "I think the time away from Congress has helped his humility."

Kasich clearly does not miss Washington. "I don't go there. When I do I break out in a cold sweat. It's terribly polarized. The infighting between and inside the parties is terrible."

What does he miss? "I loved my TV work," he says. "The key to being good, I learned, is you have to let go. You have to forget the camera. Forget people are watching."

He's a natural at being natural. And for that, he credits his faith.

For more than 20 years he and Roach have met for group Bible study twice a month. "He's been a real force in our study," Roach says. "He's a very positive influence in my life."

Kasich says, "God has given me an opportunity to do this job and I have to be faithful. If I'm not, it's like, •Did you forget how you got here, you knucklehead?' "

"Through this job my faith has grown stronger. I don't read the Bible to see what I should do with every decision. But it's my guide." He pauses, then adds, "But don't let anybody ever get the idea that John Kasich has this all figured out. I'm just a sinner like everyone else."

Kasich faces re-election in 2014. His federal budget success could be attractive on a presidential ticket in 2016. But eventually, after politics, he wants to go back into business. "I know I've got another book in me. But I guess I've finally given up playing on the PGA tour," he jokes.

When Kasich was asked to join a foursome of House Speaker John Boehner, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, there was no doubt about the best player. "That was me," Kasich says proudly. "Not bad for a mailman's son."

He enjoys golf and spending time with his friends, who know him as "Jack" or with mock dignity, "Governor." But on his day off, he loves doing nothing. "If you saw me not dressed up in a suit, you would see just a normal guy who happens to have this job," he says.

It's not hard to imagine him browsing a hardware store in a paint-stained T-shirt, comparing weed killers. Faded Levis, flannel shirts and pickups may be a political cliché, but for Kasich, the "regular guy" image is not an act. He talks like a man who punches a time clock. His hair sometimes looks like it was trimmed with hedge clippers. Despite his success in D.C. and New York, he seems just as comfortable around Burning Cabin and Black Hollow.

"There's too much self-interest and regionalism," he says of Ohio. "We don't want any of that. We're breaking down those silos" that separate Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati from each other and the rest of the state. "We cannot fear big ideas and change. And we need to let the rest of the country know about Ohio."

In a vast empty building filled only with shadows of dreams, way out on Ohio 32, he was introduced as "a man on a mission to reshape Ohio." It fits. If his mission is accomplished, that empty four-lane highway will be a symbol of Ohio's road to prosperity.