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Plans to go high tech



Published: Thu, June 14, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Youngstown needs to be brought into the high-tech age now, one official says.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- The Youngstown Business Incubator wants to raise millions of dollars to boost Youngstown's ability to develop high-tech businesses.

It proposes to spend $4.9 million to improve its high-tech services and to secure $250,000 a year from the state to create a separate program for teaching, consulting and researching on high-tech topics.

Without such investments, the Mahoning Valley will continue to stagnate while other areas sizzle, said Jim Cossler, incubator director.

The Mahoning Valley was 198th among the top 200 metropolitan areas in a survey that ranked the best places to do business. The Milken Institute of California issued the ranking last month after measuring income growth, job growth and high-tech output.

"We've got to do something in this community to get into the information technology age," Cossler said. "We've got to do something now," he said.

Confident: Cossler insists that Youngstown can succeed in developing a high-tech industry. The incubator has eight high-tech companies that have developed software for companies such as General Motors, Sony, Disney and leading research universities such as Carnegie Mellon University and Case Western Reserve University.

"These companies we have are fiercely committed to growing their firms here. People say you can't do it in Youngstown. They are determined to prove these people wrong," Cossler said.

The incubator's plan centers on renovating its Boardman Street building, which is connected by a walkway to its main building on Federal Plaza. The state is slated to give the incubator $1 million from its capital improvements budget to pay for a computer training center and the cost of renovations so the building can house advanced computer equipment.

Cossler said he hopes to raise the rest of the money within three or four months.

Thomas Hollern, area president for National City, is heading up the campaign, which will approach foundations, corporations and government agencies.

Computer lab: The highlight of the renovated building would be a $500,000 lab with high-end computer servers. It would be used by incubator tenants to design and test products.

These companies now use less powerful computers to design software and then send the software to customers for testing. The lab would improve the design of products and allow companies to test them at the incubator on a simulated customer.

Cossler said IBM has submitted a proposal for creating a lab that would be similar to what its software designers use. Other proposals will be considered, but the IBM proposal is attractive because it would provide links between the incubator tenants and the computer giant, he said.

The plans include a $3 million operating endowment. Proceeds from the endowment would pay for increased operating costs and the hiring of three high-tech specialists to oversee operations.

Keeping tenants: With such high-tech services and free rent, the incubator should be able to attract entrepreneurs from outside the area, Cossler said. He wants to keep these companies in the Valley, so a Cleveland law firm is drawing up a "golden handcuff" agreement that tenants will have to sign, he said.

If a company graduates from the incubator and then leaves the area, it would have to give the incubator an ownership stake in the company in exchange for the free services it received.

Information technology: The other part of the incubator's plan is to create an information technology center that would receive $250,000 a year in state funding. The Ohio Department of Development, which funds centers in six other cities, is considering the request.

Patrick Gaughan, a Chicago consultant the incubator has been working with, would move here to be the director. He would conduct entrepreneurial training with Youngstown State University faculty and students, consult with incubator tenants and do research on identifying the causes of failure among high-tech businesses.

This funding would help the incubator provide human resources that would complement the physical resources to be provided by the $5 million plan, Cossler said.




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