Oh-Penn Region Assumes "Tech Belt" Image
For years, the Oh-Penn Region was known for being part of the Great Lakes Rust Belt. Today it is becoming better known for being in the heart of a growing Tech Belt.
A number of business incubators have emerged throughout the region in recent years, with a focus on nurturing new manufacturing, energy technology and software companies. The recent opening of the $6 million, 16,400-square-foot LindenPointe eCenter in the LindenPointe Business Complex in Hermitage, Pa. is the latest effort to provide entrepreneurs with a place to turn science- and technology-based ventures into full-fledged businesses. Designed to provide startup services to businesses working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines, the eCenter also includes a learning laboratory available to students from Butler County Community College, which has a satellite campus at the LindenPointe business park.
The idea for the eCenter developed several years ago from a report documenting the economic potential of the region's electronics industry. Its anchor tenant is Novocell Semiconductor, which specializes in developing and delivering advanced non-volatile memory intellectual property to the semiconductor industry.
Amenities at LindenPointe and the recent growth of technology companies in the region continue to reinforce Novocell's decision to remain in the Oh-Penn Region, says Michael Compeau, director of sales and marketing for Novocell. For its leadership in driving technology growth in the region, Novocell was recently awarded the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Keystone Innovation Zone Grant, which it will use to automate its testing lab and expand its resources for research and development.
Incubators Spur Innovation
For more than a decade, the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI) has helped launch software firms in the region. YBI furnishes nearly all the physical assets and expertise startups might need and connects them with a network of businesses, educational institutions, foundations and government agencies willing to help. Tenants are also encouraged to share their insight and expertise with each other, says Jim Cossler, chief executive officer of YBI.
Not only does YBI help software companies get off the ground, it also offers assistance to local manufacturers like Fireline Inc., which sought advice from YBI and Youngstown State University when getting ready to expand its product – high-performance ceramic shapes used in molten metal applications – into new markets.
“YBI was an excellent resource in helping us utilize entrepreneurial skills to develop new strategies and business plans,” says Mark Peters, Fireline's director of engineering.
Another advanced manufacturing company that turned to YBI and YSU to reinvent itself was M-7 Technologies, which went from producing bronze castings for the steel industry to becoming nationally known for its development of laser scanning equipment that produces computer images of indoor and outdoor spaces.
As a Youngstown Business Incubator virtual portfolio company and research partner with Youngstown State University’s College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, the company has received millions in grant money, along with government contracts to fund research and development for confidential and commercial applications. M-7 has even worked with NASA through third parties and is currently contracting with U.S. Research Army Labs to provide multisensor, laser-based technology to measure machine tool parts.
A New Kind of Incubator
Energy-related technology is the focus of the region's newest incubator, planned for Trumbull County. Housed in a former retail building in downtown Warren, Ohio, the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center will provide resources and services to early-stage companies as well as energy grid simulations to test the usefulness, safety and practicality of new clean technologies. The center is part of a public-private partnership between state, federal and regional stakeholders to develop and commercialize advanced energy technologies.
“When entities are considering early-stage electrical grid connectivity, we want this to be the first place they consider,” says Chris Mather, chief executive officer of national initiatives for TBEIC.
Envisioned as both a business incubator and energy resource center that will help revitalize Warren and the surrounding region, the center will be the first of its kind in the U.S., says Dave Nestic, chief executive officer of regional operations for TBEIC. Leaders involved with the project are already working to develop partnerships with local, regional and national entities on energy-related projects while the center is under construction.
Other incubators in the region that provide low-cost space for new businesses include the McNeilly Business Center in Greenville, Pa. and the Warren County Industrial Complex in Warren, Pa.
The Buckle of the Tech Belt
Geographically, the Oh-Penn Region is situated at the buckle of The TechBelt Initiative, an economic development stategy designed to reinvigorate the Cleveland-to-Pittsburgh corridor. Leveraging the region's industrial and academic assets, the Tech Belt intiative aims to develop a technology- and knowledge-based economy by identifying opportunities to create new products, technologies, companies and wealth throughout the corridor.