RELATED: A brief history of the Youngstown Business Incubator



How does $70 million START

working for a city?

It fixes a roof on a building that soon will be home, experts hope, to work that will change American manufacturing.

Friday around the Youngstown Business

Incubator’s West Boardman Street facility,

hardhats shuffled around as workers chipped away at the structure, and a crane lifted materials 60 feet off the ground.

These were the first rumblings of activity for a project Youngstown was told not to even bother with. It was not good enough compared with others.

On Thursday, federal officials deemed Youngstown good enough to create an advanced manufacturing hub in the heart of the city that will work with more than 60 private and public entities to revolutionize American manufacturing.

“We were told not to even bother, not to waste our time because either the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Georgia Tech would get this, hands down,” said Mike Garvey, owner of M-7 Technologies, a manufacturer also involved in research and development. “To my knowledge, when it came time to make an award, our proposal was considered so far and above all the others that it was a no-brainer for the committee making the decision.”

Achieving the unachieveable has happened before at the place that will be home.

Jim Cossler, chief executive at YBI, remembers well when people thought YBI was a joke.

“When we became a software incubator, it was an enormous challenge,” he recounted. “Especially when we announced to the world that we would launch world-class companies in global markets. People were like ‘You’re joking, right? You can’t do that in Youngstown.’ ”

Although it was first established in 1988 to foster conventional businesses, the incubator’s journey has been one of constant reinvention. In 2001, when it became an incubator dedicated solely to software startups, it was met with skepticism by even the Youngstown community, which could not comprehend how its mission would mean better things for the city.

Cossler, a native of Youngstown’s West Side, said when he first arrived at the incubator in 1997 he “regretted having taken the job.”

For about 10 months, he struggled to form a business plan, but he realized if the incubator was to enjoy success, its cause had to be rooted in technology.

From that moment forward, YBI has clawed its way to the top.

In 2001, Turning Technologies joined its cluster of startups. By 2007, the company, which writes software and manufactures interactive classroom clickers, was named the fastest growing software company in the United States by Inc. magazine.

Companies such as Revere Data, which conducts data mining for the financial industry, made a home in both Youngstown and the mecca of software startups — Silicon Valley in California.

Despite that, Thursday was big news.

“I lost count of all the emails I’ve received. I know it was like 400,” Cossler said, referring to the deluge of attention YBI has received since Thursday. “All night long, I received them. They were coming from all over the world.”

Now, the manufacturing hub that will open next month at the annex is expected to re-energize the manufacturing base of the Mahoning Valley.

The consortium’s efforts will focus on additive manufacturing, which has been hailed as the “third industrial revolution.”

It cuts costs and uses raw material by using digital imaging to build a product and add material rather than take it away, as in traditional manufacturing.

Garvey said the work that will be done at the manufacturing hub in Youngstown will become a “global focal point.”

“You can’t create new industry ­ ­­— you have to start with companies that are already in place like the incubator,” said Fred Wentzel, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council for

Advanced Manufacturing.

“It’s focused on software, which you need for this technology. It makes complete sense that this facility will be located in Youngstown.”

Cossler has called the manufacturing hub the “mother of all startups” and said that as a result of its work, private companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin will consider setting up operations in Youngstown.

The incubator had long fought to build an advanced manufacturing base in the Valley, Garvey said.

It simply lacked the funding. But its proximity to Youngstown State University and its relationships with major cities across the country eventually made it a shining star to the federal government when it selected a facility for the hub.

Now, the incubator will only grow, Cossler said.

“Today, we have 350 people working here,” he said. “In the near future, there might be 1,200. But if things keep going this way, we could have as many as 6,000 at the incubator.”

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