When the state panel conducting a survey of Ohio's high-tech needs comes to the Mahoning Valley, we would urge its members to spend some time discussing the allocation of state dollars earmarked for high-technology business development. Why? Because by any measure, this region is getting short-changed.
It seems that success does not breed financial support from Columbus.
Case in point: The Youngstown Business Incubator, one of 10 in the state, is hailed by the administration of Gov. Bob Taft as one of the success stories. Yet in this fiscal year, YBI received a mere $194,000 from the state. Administration officials would undoubtedly argue that the $194,000 is about the same as what the other nine Edison incubators received and would note that for fiscal 2002, YBI is to get $200,000.
Lion's share: But an analysis of state spending on high-technology programs and initiatives going back to 1998 clearly shows that other communities are reaping most of the financial benefits. Why? Because several cities that have Edison incubators also have Edison centers, which capture the lion's share of the state dollars.
Thus, in this fiscal year, $18.25 million of the $20.06 million allocated for high technology was shared by the eight centers. The rest of the money was doled out to the 10 incubators, including the YBI.
The city of Dayton, for example, received $2.4 million for its Edison Materials Technology Center and $2 million for the IT Alliance program, both under the Edison centers category, and also received $194,000 for the Dayton/Miami Valley Entrepreneur Center under the Edison incubators program.
Against that background, it is evident that the Valley is losing out, and it is easy to understand why James Cossler, director of the Youngstown Business Incubator, would be frustrated. Adding insult to injury, the Ohio IT Alliance in Dayton rejected YBI's request for $250,000 a year -- even though the Taft administration had suggested such a collaborative effort.
Meanwhile, the High Technology Start-Up Business Committee is traveling the state trying to find out how Ohio can nurture and retain high-technology start-up businesses. The panel's visit to the Mahoning Valley will be instructive.
Graduates: Despite the lack of state dollars, the Youngstown Business Incubator has assisted eight technology companies get started and is now trying to find a way of keeping these companies in the city once they "graduate" from the incubator. The companies have developed software for such business giants as General Motors, Sony and Disney, which explains Cossler's determination to help them set up shop in the Valley.
Changes in tax laws to benefit high-tech start-ups would certainly help, but the region also needs a significant infusion of state dollars to create the proper work environment for these companies.
That is the message the High Technology Start-Up Business Committee, chaired by state Sen. Ron Amstutz of Wooster, R-22nd, must receive when it visits this area.