Group working on regional effort to attract high-tech jobs

By Jordan Cohen

HOWLAND — A regional organization is trying to launch a coordinated effort on behalf of 21 Northeast Ohio counties, including Mahoning and Trumbull, to try to lure more high-tech jobs to the area.

Leaders of NorTech, a nonprofit that focuses solely on high-tech industries, met with about 30 representatives of local businesses and the state at Avalon Inn on Thursday to explain their “advanced energy initiative.” “Advanced energy” is the term applied to such high-tech-oriented industries as biofuels, fuel cells and solar and geothermal power.

“What’s happening in the Mahoning Valley is not sufficient,” said Brad Whitehead, director of Cleveland-based Fund for Our Future, which is helping to finance NorTech’s initiative. “It does take a region to raise the economy.”

NorTech speakers explained that they don’t really know what high-tech or energy businesses are available in the Valley and are trying to find out. NorTech’s map displaying energy-related industries in the region showed the heaviest concentration around Cleveland. The graphic showed little activity in the Warren/Youngstown area.

The organization hopes to develop a database and act as a catalyst to get federal funding for local energy initiatives.

“Our purpose is driving employment and payroll and attracting more resources,” said Dave Karpinski, NorTech vice president.

Howland was one of a number of stops that the NorTech launch team is making to gather information about energy- related businesses. One of the suggestions made to the team was to concentrate on cash-strapped local governments that may not be willing to provide funds or assistance to such businesses.

“We’ll be happy to talk to local officials who aren’t getting it,” said Richard Stuebi, a NorTech principal.

Most of those in attendance said they were pleased with what they heard.

“This is very worthwhile, and we need it,” said Bruce Bille, president of Technical Staffing Professionals here. Bille said his company is having difficulty trying to staff some high-tech jobs in the area. “We’re tying to recruit engineers for advanced energy,” Bille said.

Thomas Frazier, production planner for Duferco Farrell Inc., called it a great initiative.

“I’m especially pleased with what they want to do with work-force development because we’ve got to get people trained for these positions,” he said.

The NorTech launch team said it will review the data it collects from its visits and will begin taking steps to complete a comprehensive database of advanced-energy companies in the Mahoning Valley and the rest of Northeast Ohio. It does not have a timetable for completion.

The goal, speakers said, is to take advantage of funding opportunities for federal and state grants with NorTech leading the way.

“Unfortunately, there’s no clear focal point for all things advanced energy,” Stuebi said. “We’re a little late to the game, but better late than never.”

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