Monday, October 5, 2009

Warren Incubator Geography

Tim Ryan's advanced energy initiative is beginning to take shape. The hub of innovation will be in Warren. The exact location is still up in the air:

Anthony Iannucci, director of Warren Redevelopment and Planning Inc., spearheading the drive for a business incubator, said nearly $3 million already has been earmarked for the project, including $500,000 from the Ohio Department of Development and more than $2 million from the federal Department of Energy, which should be available in the next 30 days.

It's unlikely the incubator will be located in downtown, but Iannucci said it will be within city limits. A site cannot be chosen until the incubator's niche is determined, he said. ...

... "We have been talking to Northeast Ohio Energy Partners, the Fund for Our Economic Future, Jumpstart and NeoTech on the state level. But I also have been in touch with venture capitalists who come to my office about energy issues. Some of them are from Ohio and some are from places like California. We will seek the expertise of those involved with the Youngstown Business Incubator. I think all of these relationships will save time and trouble down the road,'' Ryan said.

He said the Youngstown Business Incubator was primarily focused on software and did not require a large amount of space. He said here, space is needed for companies to build prototypes so a site with manufacturing capabilities is needed.

Ryan said this area has a strong manufacturing base, along with resources at universities such as Youngstown State University, Kent State University, Case Western Reserve University and the Great Lakes Energy Institute.

"I want our incubator team to be a real blend of local strengths and local input, but we also need that venture capital on a national level to make things happen," Ryan said.

WRAP previously purchased a building in Courthouse Square to house an incubator, but as the focus changed to green technology, WRAP began to rethink locations, and the building was sold, Iannucci said.

I first heard about the incubator plans while in Youngstown last August. At the time, all signs were pointing towards downtown. I was skeptical enough to request a tour Warren, as well as the strip of development stretching between the two cities.

Warren's town square reminds me of New England. The buildings and homes are aesthetically pleasing and the hotel there is a great anchor. There's a river walk and a bandshell, which was active with music during my visit. It was Friday evening with the sun still up and downtown was closed. On the way to Warren, I noticed all the activity along the highway in the strip development. Restaurants were packed. Downtown Warren keeps banker's hours.

Contrast that with Youngstown, the downtown full of energy well into the night. The Youngstown Business Incubator has a lot to do with that. The geography of innovation is ideal. Startups are in city center. The university and the Butler Institute of American Art are a short walk up the hill. I experienced firsthand the spillover potential. Walking around the city, we had one chance encounter after another. Knowledge and ideas are exchanged, schemes hatched.

Warren doesn't have the core assets that Youngstown has, but the hotel and river access distinguish it from the rival down the road. (Very interesting political history between the two cities) I hope the parties concerned will reconsider a downtown location. The need for manufacturing space makes sense. But the production site could be separate from the office work (e.g. marketing and design). I recognize that throwing Warren a bone is necessary, but the pigeonholing of the incubator project is a concern.

I'm thinking about this issue from the perspective of talent attraction. Your engineers will appreciate being able to jog along the river and walk to work from one of the beautiful homes adjacent to downtown. While drinking coffee, idea can meet up with financial capital. Political issues? Just visit the next table over from you. This will revitalize the core and better plug into economic globalization.

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