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EDA offers Youngstown incubator help in future



Published: Sat, September 9, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The new downtown building is expected to house more than 300 workers.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- A federal official presented a $2 million grant to expand the Youngstown Business Incubator and then offered to help fund more growth.

Benjamin Erulkar, an official with the U.S. Economic Development Administration, said at a ceremony downtown Friday that he hopes the incubator's technology companies continue to grow so much that the agency is called in to fund another expansion in five to seven years.

The grant is the last piece needed for a $5.8 million office building to house companies ready to leave the rent-free environment of the incubator at 241 W. Federal St. Jim Cossler, incubator director, expects the new building to house more than 300 workers a year from now.

Erulkar said the incubator's efforts fit perfectly into the EDA's mission of helping to turn distressed areas into vibrant economies.

"Until that happens in Youngstown, we'll be here," he said.

Surprised at offer

He praised the incubator's intention of using the new building as an anchor to attract other growing technology companies to downtown.

Reid Dulberger, an official with the Regional Chamber who aids in downtown development, said Erulkar's offer of continuing support was a surprise. The EDA provided $2 million in the 1990s to develop the incubator and is giving $2 million to fund the current expansion, so local officials weren't sure how much more money to expect from the agency.

Cossler also welcomed the support but said Erulkar had one thing wrong -- the timing. Cossler figures the incubator will be ready to expand again in two or three years.

The incubator owns a 10,000-square-foot building behind its current facility that is the most likely site for the next expansion, Cossler added. The rear building is used for storage by a nearby company.

Dulberger said downtown officials are exploring other sites for future expansion as well.

The two main tenants of the new building -- Turning Technologies and Softek Software International -- aren't expected to stay there for long if they continue to grow, he said.

The intent is to build a cluster of technology companies downtown that feed off each other's ideas and support from Youngstown State University, Dulberger added. Technology companies that have not graduated from the incubator also will be welcome in the new building, which will be called the Youngstown Technology Center.

More help on the way?

More immediate help may be coming for the incubator.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, of Niles, D-17th, successfully inserted $200,000 in further aid for the incubator into a House appropriations bill, while U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, R, placed $1.3 million in a Senate version of the bill.

Both Ryan and DeWine attended the check-presentation ceremony and praised the work being done at the incubator.

Downtown officials aren't sure how much money will be approved when the House and Senate reconcile the two bills, but incubator officials are planning to use the funds to increase parking.

As for the current expansion, demolition of five buildings near the incubator is set to begin later this month and be completed in 75 days. The new building is to be completed by Oct. 1, 2007.

The three-story building will have 30,000 square feet. Turning Technologies and Softek occupy about half the incubator's 25,000-square-foot building but are expected to take up 80 percent of the new building.

Turning Technologies and Softek employ a total of about 100 people and do business around the world. Turning Technologies makes audience response systems, while Softek produces retailing software.

Dulberger said the building will be constructed to have flexible space to meet the needs of future companies. It will have modular walls that can be moved and power and telecommunication lines along tracks in the floor so they can be brought up wherever they are needed.

Cossler said revenue from rents charged to Turning Technologies and Softek will be used first to prepare the incubator for new tenants and then to upgrade its services. One possibility would be to build a fund that could be used to invest in startup companies, he said. "People call you when you have money," he added.

shilling@vindy.com




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