Sunday, October 11, 2009

One year after ribbon cutting, Valley company closes it doors

By Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

A local company that expanded into a new 37,500-square-foot facility one year ago near the airport has closed its doors.

Reel Time Logistics officially opened a new warehouse and distribution facility just west of the Terre Haute International Airport–Hulman Field in October 2008. Now the doors of that business are locked and no truck or other traffic is visible at the facility.

“Reel Time Logistics, to our knowledge, is closed,” said Lisa Johnson, marketing and communications manager for the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp.

One year ago, Reel Time Logistics had a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its new facility on South Hunt Street to expressions of optimism about the company’s future.

At the time, the company was providing third-party logistics services for companies such as Dicks Sporting Goods, Clabber Girl, Great Dane Trailers, Scott Pet Products and Cummins-Consolidated Diesel Co., a company official said at the time.

Reel Time Logistic employed about 50 people in October 2008, mostly full-time truck drivers, another company official said.

The Reel Time Logistics property, which includes the 37,500-square-foot warehouse and distribution facility and 20 additional undeveloped acres, is listed for sale with an Indianapolis real estate company. The property includes a little more than 30 acres in total with an asking price of $2.25 million, according to the Turley Martin Tucker Web site.

Local contractor Thompson Thrift built the Reel Time Logistics facility. Reel Time was founded 51⁄2 years ago in Terre Haute and operated out of offices south of the city while its truck fleet was based on Margaret Avenue prior to opening the Hunt Street warehouse and distribution building.

Company officials for Reel Time Logistics could not be reached Friday for comment.

Keeping promises on Ohio jobs behind AG Cordray's review of economic development awards

COLUMBUS, Ohio: With Ohio's unemployment rate hovering above 11 percent, the announcement Thursday by Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray that he will start to review economic development awards made by the state of Ohio to make sure businesses and organization who took the money in exchange for creating or saving jobs are keeping their promises, should be received favorably by Gov. Ted Strickland and lawmakers who know the road to restoring prosperity is years away and growing steeper in incline each day.

The bill and the goal

Acting on a requirement in HB 420, a new law about transparency in government, Cordray said his office is ready to monitor the awards for economic development the state makes.

"Our goal, as defined by statute, "he said, "is to ensure that tax dollars are being used as intended in these awards. Promises were made by businesses and organizations to create and save jobs in Ohio and those promises must be kept."

His office mailed letters our this week to more than 3,000 recipients who received awards over a five year period between July 1, 2004 and June 30, 2009. The letter asks these recipients to complete an online report within 30 days, that the AG's office will then analyze and place the data from it in a report to the General Assembly.

"The public expects performance and accountability when the government spends our money for these purposes, and we will work hard to provide exactly that by enforcing the terms of these contracts," Cordray said in a media release.

To view the report, visit www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov/EDAP. The office will also monitor future awards and will report its findings to the General Assembly.

Ohio's Third Frontier Yields $6.6B in Economic Activity

Ohio's $1.6 billion Third Frontier research and tech-commercialization effort, set to expire in 2012, generated $6.6 billion of economic activity, 41,300 total jobs, and $2.4 billion in employee wages and benefits following $681 million in state spending on the program between 2003 and 2008, according to a report released this week at a meeting of the Ohio Third Frontier Advisory Board and Commission.

Making an Impact: Assessing the Benefits of Ohio’s Investment in Technology-Based Economic Development Programs recommended that Third Frontier officials ensure that the program will continue past 2012; foster a better understanding of the program and its relationship to Ohio’s strengths; enable a stronger balance between research support and commercialization; and emphasize more entrepreneurial support programs, technology company attraction, and cluster expansion.

Ohio credits Third Frontier with commercializing or creating more than 500 companies and attracting $3.5 billion in private investment to Ohio. The report also credited Ohio Third Frontier with boosting the state's economy and high-tech business climate by:

• Dramatically increasing the availability of early-stage capital
• Improving the entrepreneurial environment for technology
• Improving research and development collaboration
• Driving employment growth in Ohio’s technology sector
• Contributing to the diversity and competitiveness of Ohio’s manufacturers
• Recruiting non-Ohio companies
• Charting a course consistent with tech-based growth in other regions

Making an Impact was produced for Ohio's Department of Development by SRI International and the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. The project also received guidance from the Ohio Third Frontier Advisory Board and Commission.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saginaw Snags 500-Job Solar Plant

Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm Tuesday announced a significant addition to Michigan’s burgeoning clean-energy industrial base as Georgia-based Suniva Inc. will invest $250 million in a new solar manufacturing facility in Saginaw County’s Thomas Township. Suniva will create 500 new jobs over the next five years subject to receiving a Department of Energy loan guarantee, which the company recently applied for. The Michigan Economic Growth Authority Tuesday, on Michigan Economic Development Corp. recommendation, approved a photovoltaic Michigan Business Tax credit valued at $15 million over five years. State officials also approved incentives to move forward the Wixom transformation project announced last month. Clairvoyant Energy Solar Panel Manufacturing Inc. was granted a photovoltaic MBT credit valued at $25 million, and Xtreme Power Inc. received an advanced-battery credit valued at $100 million. More.

A Big Wake-Up Call for the Midwest

In an exclusive interview, Richard C. Longworth, author of "Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism," describes "A Big Wake-Up Call" for the Midwest. Read it here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Daniels pleased with state economic development efforts

Bowdeya Tweh - bowdeya.tweh@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 | Posted: Friday, October 2, 2009

CROWN POINT | Gov. Mitch Daniels gave his stamp of approval to the job performance of the Indiana Economic Development Corp.'s board of directors while battling the effects of difficult business climate during a Thursday meeting.

While acknowledging the poor economy has had an effect on businesses, Daniels said he was pleased with the amount of projects the IEDC has granted and the work board members put into the economic development mission in Asia last month.

After Indiana officials visited China and Japan, Indiana's Secretary of Commerce Mitch Roob said positive leads were generated with six suppliers for manufacturing firm Cummins Inc. in China, and delegates had discussions with seven businesses in each country on locating in Indiana. While in Japan, Roob, who is also the IEDC's chief executive, began to investigate opportunities with Sony and said talks are continuing on some operations potentially being located in Indiana.

Daniels admitted that before he was governor, he thought trade trips were more symbolic than results-oriented. But the payroll income that can be generated from one business locating in the state makes the trip worth it, he said.

"We need to keep doing these and budgeting as much as we can towards them," Daniels said.

The meeting was held at the Purdue Technology Center of Northwest Indiana.

From Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, the IEDC has granted funds to 120 projects, which is one project less than the comparable 2008 period. Total job commitments also fell this year to 14,056 from 14,743 in 2008. Investment commitments so far in 2009 have fallen nearly 64 percent from last year's mark to $1.28 billion.

However, Roob said one positive development is that the average wage for employees in IEDC-funded projects was $21.09 per hour in 2009, which is higher than the average state wage of $18.35 an hour. Projected income created per incentive dollar offered was $5.13 this year, down nearly 13 percent from a year earlier. But the total this year is still better than in 2005 through 2007. Roob said Indiana is continuing to seek a high return on its investments in the form of dollars in Hoosiers' pockets.

"We're happy with the type of people we've recruited," Roob said.

After a brief discussion during the meeting, Roob said the IEDC needed to research how long it takes for jobs to reach the marketplace after investments are made in companies.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

California IT firm plans to add 1,000-plus jobs in Ann Arbor area

Systems in Motion, a Fremont, Calif. IT services firm, has chosen to locate a new support center in the Ann Arbor region.

Systems in Motion plans to create 1,084 new jobs in the Ann Arbor region over the next five years. Additionally, the company plans to invest $12.5 million in capital.

Systems in Motion was approved Tuesday for state tax credits by the Michigan Economic Growth Authority board, and will also receive support from Ann Arbor Spark, the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Washtenaw County Employment Training and Community Services, the Michigan Department of Information Technology and Eastern Michigan University.

“A collaboration between state and regional partners to provide Systems in Motion with the training resources, tax incentives and other business-critical support helped the company choose Michigan over competing sites,” said Ken Theis, director, Michigan Department of Information Technology. “Growing companies often need far more resources and support than one entity can provide, so by recognizing shared strengths and coming together to fill the gaps, collaborative efforts, like the one in place to bring Systems in Motion to Michigan, can help grow our economy and bring thriving businesses to our state.”

Venture-backed Systems in Motion combines the best practices of global service delivery, with strategic investments in intellectual capital and assets built for next generation technology architectures. The company was considering Texas and Ohio for its new service center location before choosing the Ann Arbor region.

“We’re delighted to be able to join with state, county and local agencies, as well as education institutions in Michigan to build a true public-private partnership,” said Neeraj Gupta, CEO, Systems In Motion. “Systems In Motion’s Ann Arbor facilities will drive technology leadership for global enterprises, while providing an important job creation engine for the local community.“

As part of its incentives package, Systems in Motion will receive up to $1.5 million in workforce development funding that reflects a strong collaboration between ETCS and EMU. Combined, ETCS and EMU will provide $10,000 in education to each Systems in Motion employee as well as 50 percent on-the-job training.

“Educational and skills development resources were important factors in Systems in Motion’s decision to choose the Ann Arbor region for its new service center,” said Trenda Rusher, director, ETCS-Michigan Works. “By working with EMU and Ann Arbor Spark, we were able to show Systems in Motion that we could develop their workforce through leading-edge training and education, providing a key differentiator for the Ann Arbor region over competing sites. Access to this type of worker training and educational funding is a strong driver of economic development.”

Systems In Motion is driving the development of a uniquely cost efficient “Inshore” IT service model that combines global innovation in service delivery with local implementation capabilities. Systems In Motion’s operational expertise, coupled with investments in service development tools, accelerates the deployment of business-aligned IT. Key services delivered include design, development, implementation, testing and support for technology products, applications and IT Infrastructure.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hummer buyer says it likely will locate headquarters in southeast Michigan near Detroit

By: TOM KRISHER
Associated Press

09/22/09 5:00 PM EDT DETROIT — The Chinese company that's in the running to buy Hummer from General Motors Co. likely will locate the brand's corporate headquarters near Detroit, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Spokesman Nick Richards says Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Corp., which is still negotiating to buy the brand, initially will employ about 100 people at the headquarters with plans to grow that to 300.

The headquarters would house global design, engineering, product planning, purchasing, sales, service, marketing and financing, Richards said. The company plans to invest $9.4 million over five years, he said.

The Michigan Economic Development Authority on Monday approved a $20.6 million state tax credit over 10 years to lure the company to Michigan. According to a memo filed with the authority, Hummer is considering sites in Detroit and suburban Auburn Hills, both of which have indicated they would grant tax abatements. Hummer also considered sites in South Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee.

The tax credit is contingent on Sichuan Tengzhong closing the deal for Hummer with GM, although the memo says all definitive documents for the sale have been signed by GM and Sichuan Tengzhong.

The memo says the Hummer headquarters also would create another 641 jobs with other companies and generate $36.6 million in additional revenue for the state, excluding the tax break costs.

The company will decide on the headquarters' location by Oct. 31, the memo says.

The Hummer brand features large off-road vehicles that initially were developed for military use. GM wants to sell the brand because it loses money, but Hummer has a highly rated dealership network that Sichuan Tengzhong may be after.

Sichuan Tengzhong is a little-known Chinese truck and industrial equipment maker. The sale could still be blocked by Chinese regulators who are questioning its wisdom.

Tengzhong's CEO, Yang Yi, has said the company will maintain Hummer's headquarters and operations in the U.S., while investing in research and development of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Tengzhong is likely benefiting from heavy stimulus spending on construction projects in China and from rebuilding after last year's earthquake in Sichuan, given the company's specialization in construction equipment and heavy trucks.

Tengzhong earlier said it broke ground on a 3.5 billion yuan ($500 million) factory to make oil field equipment.

Sichuan Tengzhong spokesman Tim Payne said negotiations are still under way to close the deal with GM.

"We're confident we'll get there one day. These things take some time," Payne said from Beijing. "It's a deal in a complicated environment."

IN Economic Development Officials Head to Europe

Indianapolis, Ind. -- Indy Partnership Business Development Director Kristie McKillip departs for Germany today on a trade mission promoting the 10-county Indianapolis Region. It is McKillip’s third trip to Germany in 10 months.

According to a July 2009 Indiana University Kelley School of Business report for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), more than 65 percent of the foreign direct investment in the state of Indiana comes from Europe, and Germany-based employers represent about 14 percent of all companies and all dollar investment of foreign origin in the Indianapolis Region.

Indy Partnership President & CEO Ron Gifford—who just returned from traveling with Governor Daniels on the state’s trade mission to China and Japan—said Indy Partnership is directing its economic development resources toward those areas that offer the greatest potential return on investment as well as have the highest likelihood for bringing new jobs to Central Indiana.

“More than 14,000 new Indiana jobs have come from Europe since 2004,” Gifford said. “Maintaining good working relationships with current partners and introducing new European companies to the Indianapolis Region is both prudent and proactive.”

The trade mission has been planned in cooperation with IEDC’s Director of International Development Steve Akard, Michael Krueger and Mariya Gandzhova with IEDC Europe, and Duke Energy and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership (NEIRP) who are also sending representatives on the trip.

McKillip has 23 confirmed meetings with German advanced manufacturing companies and renewable energy firms over the 11-day mission, including meetings with several prospects who already have sales offices in Central Indiana.

“My goals in Europe are the same as they are domestically: to deliver the message that the Indianapolis Region is one of the world’s most competitive locations for business and to back it up with data and case studies,” McKillip said.

In addition to the prearranged meetings with manufacturers, chambers of commerce and other economic development prospects, McKillip will represent the Indianapolis Region at three different trade shows. These trade shows include Motek 2009 international exhibition for industrial automation in Stuttgart, RENEXPO 2009 renewable energy trade fair in Augsburg, and FachPack 2009 packaging and labeling technology exhibition in Nuremburg.

Similar to Ron Gifford’s daily blog and frequent Twitter updates from Governor Daniels’ trade mission to China and Japan, McKillip will take advantage of both technologies to keep Indy Partnership investors and community partners apprised of her economic development activities while in Germany. Visit http://blog.indypartnership.com/blog/news-from-the-road- to read McKillip’s blog and http://twitter.com/KDMcKillip to receive her Twitter updates.

Economy divides Ohio politicians

By Julie Carr Smyth
The Associated Press
Posted Sep 22, 2009 @ 12:05 PM


COLUMBUS — Ohio can breathe a sigh of relief. Gov. Ted Strickland finally appointed a permanent replacement last week to succeed Lee Fisher at the helm of the Ohio Department of Development.

Economic development ship righted. Yellow brick road to the Emerald City of prosperity straight ahead.

Right? Well, not exactly.

No sooner had Strickland answered attacks from the Ohio Republican Party over the state’s many months without a development director by appointing Lisa Patt-McDaniel than GOP lawmakers called a series of press conferences across the state Monday.

Their focus was to attack him and fellow Democrats in the Ohio House for being lackadaisical about tackling Ohio’s economic woes.

Republican lawmakers pointed out that one economic competitiveness index places Ohio 49th of 50 states. Forbes rated the state 47th in its prospects for growth in areas such as job creation, income growth, business openings and venture capital investments (despite another ranking that put Ohio tops in the nation in such investments two years in a row).

The lawmakers took particular aim at the House Economic Development Committee, which they say has failed to conduct regular hearings or pass a single substantive bill.

“So far, Democrats have not shown that they are willing to make any important decisions regarding economic development within our state,” said state Rep. Dave Hall. “How many more businesses and young people need to flee the state before the Democrats decide they need to act?”

Republicans, who control 46 of 99 House votes, laid out a series of proposals they believe could help create jobs and stop businesses from leaving the state.

Among them are offering tax credits to companies that hire unemployed Ohioans, creating a small business resource portal online, tracking job placement success and collecting data from companies that leave the state.

The lawmakers failed to note that few bills on any topic have been passed since the session began in January. And chances are, with Democrats leading the House and Republicans leading the Senate, few will.

Another thing that gets lost in the dustup over the state’s development efforts is that the Ohio Department of Development and the House Economic Development Committee may have “development” in their names, but they are far from the only engines of Ohio’s economy.

Some argue they aren’t even the main places where transformative ideas are likely to start.

Joe Shure, deputy director of the State Fiscal Project at the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said state development departments tend to lead states’ PR efforts — not their economic comebacks.

“In a lot of states, it’s really a marketing office, it sends the signal to other states that we’re ’Open for Business,”’ Shure said. “What really matters to a state’s economic prosperity is the quality of education, the transportation network, its environmental regulations, a tax system that’s adequate to raise needed revenue. Those are not really the things development directors deal with.”

Being without a permanent development director for nearly eight months during this historically abysmal economy is certainly unfortunate for the state. And it can’t be ignored that the development directorship is only one of several within Strickland’s administration that have been sidetracked by controversy.

However, according to Shure, the GOP may be overstating the case when it characterizes the Development Department as central to Strickland’s strategy for improving Ohio’s economy.

“Gov. Strickland clearly doesn’t consider job creation a priority,” Ohio Republican Chairman Kevin DeWine wrote in one of his many attacks over the open directorship.

Then DeWine took aim at Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, who stepped aside as development director to run for a coveted U.S. Senate seat. “The Strickland-Fisher administration has checked out. It’s no wonder Ohio’s economy is spiraling out of control when the guy responsible for turning it around has no idea what’s going on.”

Shure said whether or not a state has a development director, or even a Development Department, isn’t highly relevant to its economic competitiveness.

“It’s kind of in vogue for states to have highly visible economic development people out there marketing and basically trying to take jobs from other states,” he said. “But no state should think doing that is going to replace slogging it out in the areas that make the most difference. There’s no replacement for doing economic development the old-fashioned way.”

Monday, September 14, 2009

Campaign focuses on plight of Rust Belt

'I will stay if ...' party to be held here
Monday, September 14, 2009

By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Two friends in their 20s, after working together on a political campaign in Manhattan, decide to leave in favor of their hometowns: Pittsburgh and Detroit.

If you're expecting a punch line, you're a step behind. Sarah Szurpicki and Abby Wilson -- the founders the Great Lakes Urban Exchange, or GLUE -- can make you believe the Rust Belt is the place to be, not the place to leave.

A loose network of people in Pittsburgh, Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Toledo, Ohio, and Buffalo, N.Y., GLUE started two years ago after Ms. Szurpicki, a Detroit native, and Ms. Wilson, a Pittsburgher, left New York to take their enthusiasm for urban living to their own hometowns.

In the spring, they launched the first GLUE campaign -- a series of "I Will Stay If ..." parties that kicked off in Detroit in June. The second party, reframed with the theme "Why Pittsburgh?" is from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Shadow Lounge, 5972 Baum Blvd., East Liberty.

One need not be affiliated with GLUE or of a certain age to participate.

Carrie Hagan, a graduate student in history and policy at Carnegie Mellon University, met Ms. Wilson through the League of Young Voters and joined the party committee "and the next thing I know I am throwing the party," said Ms. Hagan. "I couldn't stand the idea of not being part of something like this."

She said East Liberty was chosen because of its convergence of economic development and minority population.

"We want a comprehensive conversation," she said. "A lot of people are feeling pride in being here right now, but for a lot of people, Pittsburgh has not been the most livable city, and we want feedback from them. We want to know what has made people stay, but we realize quality of life varies."

Ms. Szurpicki said GLUE is an experiment in driving urban policy from the roots up. Every party results in photographs of participants holding signs that tell what it is about their city that would make them stick with it. The photos will be data for GLUE to play a part in reviving and setting urban policy.

Read more

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Editorial: Going with the wind

By John Phipps
August 26, 2009, 9:00AM

One good thing about hard times is they force innovation. And here's an invigorating example: West Michigan is rigging itself to set sail in the emerging wind energy industry.

Grand Rapids Community College, encouraged by The Right Place economic development group, has succeeded in getting eight West Michigan community colleges -- from Traverse City all the way down to Kalamazoo, Saint Joseph and Battle Creek -- to cooperate on one big idea to promote wind energy in West Michigan. Grand Valley State and Ferris State universities are also on board.

So are key local industries working in wind, such as Rockford Berge, Cascade Engineering, Applied Technology Systems, the Holland Board of Public Works and others.

The big idea: A $16 million wind energy training and testing center supported by all 10 schools.
The center would train skilled workers to service the turbines and wind farms that are popping up like summer sunflowers throughout the country. The centerpiece of the training school could be a 300-foot tower, the kind a major power supplier would operate. But it likely would have a variety of other wind towers, smaller home wind machines, and solar and other renewable energy training equipment. Testing labs also are planned, with an eye toward having the wind industry pay to use them.

This groundbreaking college collaborative should be considered a statewide example for aggressively recruiting a new industry, while cutting costs by sharing resources. Lawmakers, policy makers and the governor's office should support the effort as the schools finalize planning and begin applying for federal and state green-energy grants to make it happen. Alternative energy is a good way to diversify our economy. If new, well-paying jobs are going to be created, the state must be committed to supporting bold endeavors like this testing and training facility.

Right Place President Birgit Klohs estimates there's a window of just a few years for West Michigan to prove itself a player in the wind market. She is working with industries to position the region, following the road map in a 52-page report she released 18 months ago. The report calls wind West Michigan's best opportunity for growth over the next five years.

The community college training center could become nationally known, she said.

"My long-term dream is that if someone in Montana says 'wind energy technicians' they say 'Oh, those people in West Michigan -- they have the best programs.'รข€‰"

The center will need a 50-acre site to call home, The most promising area, organizers say, is in or around northern Allegan County, which is one of the best regions in Michigan for harvesting wind energy, according to a study by Michigan State University's Land Policy Institute. The policy report also concluded Allegan County, which has a unique proximity to urban areas, eventually could support up to 300 turbines as wind farm demand grows. The Traverse City and Thumb regions also are flagged as top on-shore wind-capturing locations.

Planning for wind turbines won't be a breeze. There is hard work ahead, and policy makers should prepare to address environmental, community and business issues thoroughly and openly.

But the wind industry is truly taking flight. Nationally, its jobs now total 85,000, already outnumbering coal mining jobs, according to a new American Wind Energy Association study. Within just a few years, Michigan may have 1,000 wind turbines turning to meet demands of the state's renewable portfolio standards, rules that require electric suppliers by 2015 to get 10 percent of electricity from renewable sources.

Wind is a rare example in these tough times of where West Michigan's assets seem to align perfectly with an up-and-coming industry. The Great Lakes are among the nation's best wind factories. The region is already a proven leader in making things, with a strong work force and infrastructure.

We are, for once, in the right place, Klohs said. In this economy, that's a blast of fresh air.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Shuttered factories, shattered lives in US rust belt

By Mira Oberman (AFP) – Aug 2, 2009

DETROIT, Michigan(AFP) — Weeds have not had time to overtake factories shuttered in the wake of recent bankruptcies at General Motors, Chrysler and a host of suppliers, but the signs of shattered lives are spreading as the economically devastated region, dubbed "the rust belt" after its steel industry, fails to absorb the collapse of the auto industry.

Long lines at the unemployment offices. Empty shelves at the food banks. Boarded up businesses. Homes lost to foreclosure, their contents strewn on the street.

Michigan, the birthplace and home of the US auto industry, is the hardest hit.

"There's just no doubt that region has faced an incredible tsunami of events," said Mark Partridge, an economist at Ohio State University.

"It's really tough on the psyche... they've had one failure after another."

In the past ten years, Michigan has lost half its manufacturing jobs as the Detroit Three saw their share of US auto sales slide from 70 to 45 percent.

That's more than 543,000 people forced out of plants where the wages were usually good enough to pay for a nice house, a college fund for the kids and maybe even a cottage.

Most blame management for pumping out ugly, unreliable cars people simply didn't want to buy.

Some blame the union and its gold-plated benefits, while others say it's the government's fault for shifting the burden of healthcare costs to employers.

But simply put, GM, Ford and Chrysler had been losing market share to Asian automakers for decades.

They managed to post record profits in the 1990s by developing gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles, but were slow to match the smaller crossovers introduced by Toyota and Honda.

When fuel prices soared, the Big Three tanked.

The plant closures started in 2005 and the restructuring plans deepened as the economy slowed in 2007. The union made historic concessions. Management got focused on fuel efficiency and quality.

And then -- just when it looked like they might pull through -- the credit crunch and financial crisis hit in the fall of 2008. US auto sales fell to lows not seen in decades.

Ford survived with the help of massive loans it secured before credit dried up, but GM and Chrysler were forced into bankruptcy protection and a 50-billion-dollar government bailout.

Michigan went from having one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country -- 3.3 percent in June of 2000 -- to topping the list every single month for over three years.

More than 740,000 people here were actively looking for work in June as the unemployment rate hit 15.2 percent. An untold number have moved away or simply given up.

"I think there's a lot of hope," said Andy Levin, deputy director for Michigan's department of energy, labor and economic growth.

Governor Jennifer Granholm -- a charismatic and energetic speaker with close ties to President Barack Obama -- has been traveling the globe to pitch the state's resources to prospective employers.

She's making a major push to draw alternative energy jobs, touting the state's experience with advanced manufacturing and engineering its easy access to the shipping lanes and wind power of the Great Lakes.

State officials have also devoted millions of dollars to an innovative retraining program for unemployed and low-income residents and have launched a major tourism campaign promoting Michigan's miles of pristine shorelines.

"It's an incredibly beautiful place and we have all these incredible water resources and our manufacturing process and know-how," Levin said in a telephone interview.

"We can make things cheaper, faster, better than other places because we have the highest concentration of engineering talent."

The success stories fill 12 pages of a website set up by the state's economic development corporation to tout the "Michigan Advantage."

A 2.9-million-dollar investment by a medical device firm (108 jobs). An 84-million-dollar expansion by an insurance company (1,600 jobs). A new, 220-million-dollar plant to build batteries for hybrid cars (498 jobs).

They pale in comparison to the 337,600 jobs Michigan has lost in the past year alone.

"The fallout from the shrinkage of the auto industry -- even in the best scenario -- we will be feeling that for years," said Charles Ballard, an economics professor at Michigan State University.

"The downward trend has been going on for 60 years, so it's not going to be fixed by Thursday. Even if they do the right things it'll take years before they bear fruit."

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

Healthy Lake Erie means stronger economy

Congress is getting ready to vote on legislation that could pump up to $475 million into funding for Great Lakes restoration.

With blue skies and the temperature in the 80's, this was a perfect day on Lake Erie. At Edgewater Beach in Cleveland, lots of kids were playing in the shallow water near the warm sand.

With 10,000 miles of freshwater coastline, millions treasure the freshwater seas known as the Great Lakes. Patty Palyu and her daughter Christine were walking back to their car after a great day in the sunshine at Edgewater.

"I grew up with the tradition of going to the beach whenever our family had the chance to get to Lake Erie," said Patty. "And it's free, it's close and beautiful."

Christine Palyu added, "the water today was very clean. I just hope people in Washington understand how important this is for all of us."

In downtown Cleveland, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown talked about the impending vote in Congress to provide $475 million in funding for Great Lakes restoration.

Senator Brown said, "this federal money just makes great sense. Investing in the Great Lakes region is an important way to promote economic development."

The economists at the Brookings Institute think tank estimate that the Great Lakes region would see at least a $2 economic benefit for every $1 invested in restoring Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes.

Kristy Meyer, director of Clean Water Programs for the Ohio Environmental Council said, "we need to send a clear message to Congress. Stand up for the millions of people who depend on the Great Lakes for their jobs, drinking water, and way of life."

Calvin Jefferson was taking his wife Anne and their three children to the lake this afternoon.

Said Jefferson, "I'd pay to get $2 dollars back for a $1 investment if it's something worth it, like the beaches here."

Across Northeast Ohio boaters and fishermen know the treasure that we have with our billions of gallons of fresh water.

Fishing charter captain, Mike Blankenship walked off his dock at the Inner City Yacht Club and said, "Look around. This is the walleye capital of the world. Let's get it together and use it right".

But invasive species like the goby are a constant threat.

Getting rid of them could be part of the federal funding package. The federal restoration plan would include cleaning up the rivers and tributaries that flow into Lake Erie.

Carol Caruso, Vice President of the Greater Cleveland Partnership said, "in terms of jobs, the economy, the lifestyle and the attraction of people to this wonderful city. I can't think of a city that's better positioned to take advantage of this federal funding."

Cleveland understands the need and the priority of restoring the sweet water seas. And many hope that Congress won't miss the boat when the Senate votes on the Great Lakes appropriation in September.

© 2009 WKYC-TV

Dow battery factory will have ripple effect on area's economy

by Eric English | The Saginaw News
Thursday August 06, 2009, 7:15 AM

MIDLAND - Construction of a huge new factory in Midland to make advanced batteries for the automotive industry will break ground in October or early November, a spokeswoman for the Dow Chemical Co. said Wednesday. When completed, the factory will employ an estimated 800 people.

"It's entirely our intention to move quickly on this, to get it up and operational and hire people as soon as possible," Dow spokeswoman Kristina Schnepf said Wednesday.

Dow will build the 800,000-square-foot factory as a joint venture with batterymaker Kokam America Inc., which currently produces batteries used in electric vehicles and by the military, Schnepf said.

The location of the factory will be on Dow property at the corner of Saginaw Street and Bay City Road, near the Genji restaurant in Midland.

Local leaders say the project will help the entire Great Lakes Bay Region's economy.

"The impact is going to be enormous," said JoAnn T. Crary, president of the economic development agency Saginaw Future Inc.

Dow officials were in Detroit on Wednesday to hear Vice President Joe Biden, who announced a $161 million Department of Energy grant to support the proposed battery venture between Dow and Kokam.

The grant was among $2.4 billion in federal dollars awarded for manufacturing and developing advanced batteries for electric vehicles.

The federal money was the last major piece of financing Dow and Kokam needed to start the estimated $665 million project. Dow and Kokam are putting in an amount at least equal to the federal money, Schnepf said.

The Michigan Economic Growth Authority previously approved about $145 million in tax credits for the joint venture. Crary said Saginaw Future worked with other area economic development groups to change state law and lift the $25 million limit on such state credits in order to get the larger amount approved for the Dow project.

The project is likely to create hundreds of construction jobs to build the factory, which Dow expects to be up and running by 2011. That's welcome news to Tom Ryder, president of the 2,000-member Tri-County Building and Construction Trades Council.

"We're very hopeful. We could really use the jobs," said Ryder, adding that each local trade union currently has about 30 percent of its work force unemployed. The Saginaw electrician's local, for example, has 48 of its 130 members out of work, he said.

Ryder said the Dow Kokam project would be the third big employment opportunity, after work at Hemlock Semiconductor in Saginaw County and a planned expansion of Consumers Energy's Karn-Weadock generating complex in Bay County.

Schnepf said Dow hasn't announced any contractors or a bidding process for the new factory. It also isn't taking job applications for people to work at the new plant; more information will be available as the project gets under way, she said.

"It's extremely exciting. This is a huge vote of confidence in Michigan companies, especially Dow," Schnepf said.

The new Dow Kokam factory would replace some of the 400 to 500 jobs Dow is cutting in the Midland area as part of staff reductions announced in 2008.

When completed, the plant will make up to 60,000 batteries a year for electric or hybrid electric vehicles.

"I applaud President Obama and the DOE for helping ensure the next generation of advanced battery technology is developed and built right here in America," said Andrew N. Liveris, Dow's chairman and chief executive officer.

"Dow is excited to begin using our expertise in chemistry to help overcome the technical challenges of developing and commercializing the next generation of advanced automotive batteries," he said.

Kokam America Inc. is based in Missouri and is the U.S. affiliate of South Korea-based Kokam Co.. The company makes a patented product called a Superior Lithium Polymer Battery. Kokam claims its product is one of the highest energy and power density batteries available.

Team NEO's goal: Score with top business site consultants

by By Tom Breckenridge, Plain Dealer Reporter

Experts in matching companies with new locations enjoyed dinner at one of Northeast Ohio's prime sites Thursday evening -- near the 50-yard line in Cleveland Browns Stadium.

It's one of many perks showered this weekend on four of the country's leading real estate prospectors, hosted by Team NEO and the region's top companies.

The four are site consultants, hired by businesses to find spots for growth and relocations. Team NEO is among thousands of business-attraction groups that hope to persuade these influential real estate pros that this slice of the country has a lot to offer.

Team NEO sponsors several of the whirlwind, red-carpet tours yearly. In keeping with a "jock'' theme, site consultants from New York, Chicago and Dallas will be squired today to dinner for inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. On Saturday, they'll check out the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron.

John Kuntz/The Plain DealerDennis Donovan, principal for WDG Consulting in New Jersey, runs onto the field at Cleveland Browns Stadium Thursday evening as Robert Ady, left, of Ady International Co. in Illinois and Jay Foran, right, Team NEO's senior vice president-business attraction, form a tunnel. Browns President Michael Keenan, second from left, watches.

In between, they'll hustle through numerous visits, including to the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. headquarters in Akron and to Stark State College's fuel cell center in North Canton. Cleveland Browns President Michael Keenan pitched the region's assets during Thursday's four-course dinner.

Team NEO has sponsored the red-carpet tours for two years. Other regions have been at it much longer. It's hard to measure the tours' impact. Team NEO says it has generated some three dozen solid leads for new business through the site consultants it targets. Just a handful of those will pan out, the nature of the business-attraction game.

Team NEO and its business partners in the region kick in tens of thousands of dollars for the tours. They're crucial in the competition for new business, and aim to let site consultants know that the region is eager to help, said Team NEO spokeswoman Carin Rockind.

"We want them to know if they recommend this community, their clients will be taken care of, whether its real estate needs or building business relationships,'' Rockind said.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Lake St. Clair Initiative plans lake marketing efforts

By Chad Halcom

A nonprofit organization in Macomb County expects to launch a Web site within weeks to help foster tourism businesses and economic development for Lake St. Clair, one of its organizers and directors said.

Harrison Township-based Lake St. Clair Initiative Inc., a 501(c)(6) business organization also known as The Lake St. Clair Tourism Initiative, hopes to have the Web site active by mid-to-late August, said Stephen Remias, a founder and board member of the initiative and president of MacRay Harbor Inc.

Remias and Eric Foster, owner of rival marina company Belle Maer Harbor in Harrison Township, are both directors on the initiative board.

Other directors in the initiative include representatives of the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development and the Michigan Boating Industries Association.

The Lake St. Clair Initiative, incorporated last October, hopes to use the Web site along with promotional events and other programs to foster business development on or near the lake. No URL address is selected as yet for the new site, Remias said.

“But even if you Google local boat companies, or places to rent a Jet Ski- style watercraft, you can’t always find them,” Remias said. “Some of that is just a limited number of those services, and we want to help with that too, but there’s also a visibility issue.”

Remias said the initiative will try to foster both tourist attraction and related businesses on the lake such as personal watercraft and parasailing operations, and recreational boating. Later, some general business development will follow in communities along the lake.

Cooperation Lands Call Center, 500 Jobs

Aug. 13, 2009 7:02 a.m.
By George Nelson

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Rapid growth is driving VXI Global Solutions Inc. to open a new inbound call center downtown this fall that’s expected to employ 500 workers within its first year, possibly twice that number, depending on the needs of the company.

Mayor Jay Williams and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan were joined Wednesday by political and development leaders to announce that VXI Global Solutions of Los Angeles would establish a new global fulfillment center at 20 Federal Place where InfoCision Management Corp. operated a call center until earlier this year.

VXI plans to spend $4 million to modify the space for its needs, officials said.

In the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, Williams observed, the city “is constantly proving itself as knowing how to get things done.”

During the press event at City Hall, the mayor said VXI plans to open its call center Oct. 1, starting with 150 employees, including some 100 inbound sales agents for “a major satellite television provider,“ information technology and human resources staff, and local management. The company then plans to hire 50 additional employees each month, for a total of 500 in the space, he continued. VXI has the option of leasing an additional floor, possibly bringing total employment to 800 jobs. More here.

PM launches economic agency to help southern Ont.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Thursday the launch of a new agency to boost economic development in southern Ontario.

Harper said the Federal Economic Development Agency for southern Ontario, which will be headquartered in the city of Kitchener, will support economic development, innovation and diversification. The creation of the agency had been previously announced in the federal budget.

"This new agency will help southern Ontario's communities, workers and businesses position themselves to take advantage of exciting new economic opportunities when the recovery eventually and inevitably takes hold," Harper said.

Harper said Minister of State Gary Goodyear will be responsible for the agency and will embark on a tour of the region in the coming weeks.

The agency will have a $1-billion budget over five years.

The agency joins other federal economic development programs that help out regions, including the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the Canada Economic Development Agency for the region of Quebec, Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Federal Economic Development Initiative of Northern Ontario.

Harper said Kitchener was chosen because the government wanted a central Ontario location, but not one in the Greater Toronto Area.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Speaker: Midwest must reinvent to survive

WOOSTER -- If the Midwest states are to survive in this age of globalization, they must reinvent the region and seek ways to collaborate and merge, a senior fellow with a foreign affairs organization said.

The Midwest's economy revolves around two "big things," intensive agriculture and heavy industry, said Richard Longworth, author of "Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalization" and a fellow with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. However, globalization has tossed both of these up in the air.

Longworth was the keynote speaker of the three-day NorthCentral Region Mini Land Grant Conference at Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center's Shisler Center. It wraps up today.

While the region manufactures as much as it ever has, it is doing so with fewer people, Longworth said, using a steel plant that produces the same output today with one-tenth the number of employees.

A century ago, the Midwest acted as the Silicon Valley of today, where the ideas of backyard tinkerers and basement entrepreneurs like the Timkens, Ketterings and Goodriches in Northeast Ohio, Longworth said. The ideas were so good, the corporations were so powerful, this region lived off of them ever since.

Those corporations provided good-paying jobs, consequently no other good ideas were needed, which led to the loss of the knack to innovate and invent, traits that enabled this area to dominate the national and world economy.

Longworth concludes the Midwest must reinvent itself or die. Part of the solution is for land grant schools, cities and other organizations to look beyond state lines and political boundaries to cooperate with one another rather than compete. He spoke of the need to develop global cities in the region because the true competition was not coming from nearby states, but from across the globe.

In Northeast Ohio, the Fund for Our Economic Future has been promoting regionalism. Longworth's recommendations takes the mission of the Fund and expands it. Rod Crider, president of Wayne Economic Development Council, said regional groups like the Fund need to connect with others to think and act differently to help the Midwest come back.

Collaboration will need to work on all levels, whether it's Wooster, Wayne County, Northeast Ohio or the Great Lakes region, Crider added.

Bobby Moser, dean of OSU's College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, asked Longworth what his priorities would be.

The priorities should include education at all levels, and there should be an awareness about how education fits with economic development, Longworth said. He added there needs to be a high-speed rail system to connect the Midwest's cities so travel time would be about two to three hours.

Tuesday's morning session included discussions about the bioeconomy. Adam Liska of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln spoke about the "Life Cycle Energy Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Corn Ethanol," Randy Fortenbery of the University of Wisconsin-Madison talked about issues faced by bio-refinerie, Stephen Myers of Ohio State University talked about bioproducts being created through the Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center, and Theresa Selfa, a sociologist at Kansas State University, addressed how ethanol plants were impacting rural communities.

Is right-sizing the right fix?

On Detroit's near east side, just a stone's throw away from the hulking and abandoned Packard Plant, sits a neighborhood with overgrown fields, dumped trash, toppled trees and collapsed structures.

Three women perch on a porch having Bible study, while another woman chats on the phone from her porch farther down the street. Their homes are two of the few inhabited ones in a five-block radius, and both offer a wretched view. Their neighborhood represents a growing number
of Detroit enclaves that are ripe to be stripped, scrubbed and made over.

Urban planners insist -- and Detroit's political leaders are beginning to acknowledge -- that the city cannot continue to function as if nearly 2 million people still live there. That tax base is long gone, taking with it the money required to maintain city services and a crumbling infrastructure.

"Detroit once had 1.8 million people, and it's not likely that that number is going to come back in the next two to three decades -- if ever," said Dan Kildee, Genesee County treasurer and a national advocate for downsizing initiatives.

Experts say a downsized Detroit is doable, if these steps are taken:
  • Create a new city master plan, a blueprint for future development and the regreening of the landscape.
  • Identify which parts of the city are most suitable for habitation and development.
  • Develop an execution plan that acknowledges any right-sizing will take 25 to 50 years and should be done in 5-year increments to accommodate budget constraints.
  • Take a full inventory of all city-owned parcels and develop a plan to clear, clean and assemble them into usable shape.
  • Establish state and federal alliances with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Reserve Board to pursue block grants that could be used to relocate residents.
  • Build a partnership with private investors willing to support Detroit's future.
Former Mayor Dennis Archer and other city stakeholders began talking about right-sizing Detroit 15 years ago, when they touted tripling the city's green space and reshaping neighborhoods through demolition and relocation.

That was when the city still had about 1 million people.

Now, three mayors later, in a city with at least 100,000 fewer inhabitants and a budget deficit of $200 million to $300 million, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is scrambling to find creative ways to save money on city services. It's a daunting task.

Bing said he first plans to strengthen some of Detroit's neighborhoods by using part of the $47 million the city received from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program -- funded by HUD -- to demolish vacant structures, especially near schools.

But right-sizing will take time. More here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Michigan CEOs believe state’s economy will worsen, survey shows

By Amy Lane

Michigan CEOs are pessimistic about Michigan’s economy in the coming months but believe the national economy will hit bottom and begin to improve, according to a survey released Wednesday by Detroit Renaissance Inc. and the Michigan Business Leadership Council.

The survey of 60 Michigan chief executives found approximately 90 percent forecasting the same or lower employment and Michigan capital investment over the next six months.

Sixty-eight percent said they expect the Michigan economy will worsen over the next six months, while 80 percent believe the U.S. economy will be the same or improve.

Looking ahead 18 months, 80 percent of those surveyed believe Michigan’s economy will stay the same or worsen, with 49 percent saying the economy will be the same and 31 percent expecting further decline.

However, 78 percent of CEOs believe the U.S. economy will be in recovery.

In a news release, Doug Rothwell, president of Detroit Renaissance and the leadership council, said the survey results should be informative to state policymakers.

The leadership council is a statewide group of corporate executives that meets throughout the year to discuss ways to improve the economy and make Michigan a more competitive place to do business.

“The results show two things: First, Michigan cannot expect to grow out of its fiscal crisis anytime soon so it must make structural budget reforms, and second, major changes are needed to stimulate economic growth in this state,” Rothwell said.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Voices grow in opposition to potential regional water pipeline

By Roberto Acosta
Staff Writer

GENESEE COUNTY -- A Canadian MP from Sarnia has joined a Michigan drain commissioner and the City of Detroit in concern over a possible Genesee County water pipeline.

"The lack of information about the project has caused great concern across my community," said Patricia Davidson in a letter to Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Steve Chester, the state's Department of Environmental Quality director.

Davidson, a member of Canada's Conservative Party, is asking for 60 additional days of public comment to review the proposal.

"This is something we don't want to be making uninformed decisions about," she said. "We need to have the time to determine what's happening. Public comment is currently set to close on July 15.

Jeff Wright, Genesee County Drain Commissioner, has said the pipeline would stretch 65 miles into Sanilac, Lapeer and Genesee counties and carry a projected cost of $603 million.

Construction would be done in cooperation among the Genesee County Drain Commission-Division of Water and Waste Services, the City of Flint, Greater Lapeer County Utilities Authority and Sanilac County.

Wright in the past HAS explained that the plan is for intrastate use and is not considered a diversion under the Great Lakes Compact.

Dennis Lennox, Cheboygan County Drain Commissioner, filed an objection to the proposal on June 5 and has talked of seeking legal action if the Department of Environmental Quality approves the plan.

"Genesee County's proposal opens the door to identical pipelines across the Great Lakes, which would result in mass diversions and the commercial exploitation of water resources," he said.

Lennox also sent a letter to Granholm and Chester asking for more time to review the plan because he was "concerned that the views of Canadian officials, as well as authorities across the Great Lakes region, may not be taken into consideration by the Department of Environmental Quality because they did not have adequate time to study Genesee County's proposal before the close of public comment."

Pamela Fisher, interim director for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, listed several objections to the pipeline in a letter from the department and City of Detroit to Brant Fisher, an environmental engineer specialist for the DEQ's Water Bureau.

The letter says there are factual inaccuracies in the GCDC permit application, and that it fails to comply with the water compact's section concerning the "balance between economic development, social development and environmental protection of the proposed withdrawal and use and other or planned withdrawals in water uses sharing the water source."

The letter states a new pipeline would place an "immediate 6 percent rate increase for all the rest of the DWSD's 85 wholesale customers, as well as the residents of the City of Detroit" because of a smaller customer base. It also questions the project cost, saying the figure "does not, to our knowledge, include the cost of maintaining a connection to DWSD's system, which will be necessary if GCDC is to have the redundancy it needs."

Wright said local customers would see an increase of $7 per month during the pay-off period for a 25-year bond, but could see an overall $200 million savings in rate fees.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ohio's job growth in advanced energy industry grew 31%

A new report released by The Pew Charitable Trusts ranks Ohio best in the Midwest and among the top five states in the nation for job growth in a clean energy economy. According to the Ohio Business Development Coalition, the non-profit organization that markets the state for capital investment, the report is further evidence that Ohio is uniquely positioned to succeed in the advanced energy industry thanks to its existing strengths in manufacturing and engineering, along with its vast, skilled labor pool capable of an easy transition to fulfill the jobs of the future.

"This report further proves Ohio's dedication to technology innovation coupled with its access to a world-class supply chain and a talented, educated workforce is vital in building a strong foundation for the widespread application of advanced energy systems," said Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher. "There are many business incentive programs the state offers to companies that create new jobs, thereby creating a supportive and encouraging environment for new investment."

Based on significant research and input from experts in the field, including the advisory panel that helped guide the study, Pew developed the following definition: A clean energy economy generates jobs, businesses and investments while expanding clean energy production, increasing energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, waste and pollution and conserving water and other natural resources.

The Pew study shows in 2007 Ohio ranked among the top five states with the most jobs in clean energy (3,653), energy efficiency (5,367) and environmentally friendly production (2,800). Overall, Ohio boasted a total of 35,267 clean jobs in 2007, which represents an overall job growth of 31 percent since 1998 and an average annual job growth of .85 percent each year. For more information about The Pew Charitable Trusts and the report, visit http://www.pewtrusts.org/news_room_detail.aspx?id=53254.

Ohio's leaders are leveraging the state's key assets such as Ohio's manufacturing infrastructure, skilled workforce and advantageous location to support a growing advanced energy industry. Ohio's historic strengths in advanced design, advanced materials and advanced manufacturing combined with the state's ability to seamlessly transform these existing skill sets into those needed to compete for the jobs of the future creates the perfect environment to make the state a global leader in this rapidly growing industry. Ohio-based companies are now producing an increasing array of solar panels, wind turbines and component parts, biomass products, fuel cells, hydroelectric components, geothermal parts and storage facilities that promote better utilization of advanced energy resources and competitiveness in a global marketplace.

"Ohio has surplus automotive skilled labor and manufacturing capability that is rapidly being converted to accelerated growth of the clean energy industry and is available for clean energy companies that want a rapid start," said Ed Burghard, executive director of the Ohio Business Development Coalition. "Ohio is successfully reinventing itself as the location of choice among leading suppliers to the technologies of the future, and our state serves as a model for struggling states and cities with economies that rely on traditional manufacturing processes."

One of the most significant initiatives supporting Ohio's advanced energy industry is the Ohio Third Frontier, an unprecedented and bipartisan commitment to expand Ohio's technological strengths and promote commercialization that leads to economic prosperity throughout Ohio. Since its inception, the program has retained or created 7,700 high-paying technology jobs and has attracted more than $3.5 billion in private investment to Ohio, a 9:1 return on investment. Ohio's Third Frontier has already invested more than $100 million in advanced energy technology research and development since 2002, and is projected to provide $24 million in additional grants related to advanced energy in the coming year.

"Business leaders in the advanced energy industry are realizing how, in Ohio, they're able to successfully build a business without sacrificing their personal life," Burghard said. "Business owners profit from the bottom-line benefits of better work:life balance for their employees. Ohio offers low-cost, low-stress communities in a combination of micropolitan and metropolitan cities. This diversity provides executives and employees the resources and time to make any ambition achievable. Ohio truly is the state of perfect balance."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Minnesota Lawmakers Establish Green Jobs Plan; Gov Takes Final Action on Budget

As one of several states working to recruit and retain companies that create green jobs, Minnesota lawmakers passed a measure to create a multiagency authority to promote, market and coordinate state agency collaboration on green enterprise and green economy projects. At the same time, legislators rejected Gov. Tim Pawlenty's Green JOBZ proposal, creating a tax-free program for renewable and clean energy businesses modeled after the original JOBZ program and part of the governor's Jobs and Recovery Act (see the Feb. 4, 2009 issue of the Digest).

The Ominbus Environment, Natural Resources, Energy and Commerce bill signed by the governor establishes the Green Enterprise Authority, a cooperative effort between the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and the Department of Commerce to design programs to attract green jobs to the state. The Green Enterprise Authority will receive the remaining balance of the FY09 special revenue fund appropriation for the Green Jobs Task Force. Establishment of the authority was a major priority of the task force, a bipartisan coalition of legislators, business leaders, policy experts and state agencies created by the legislature in 2008.

Lawmakers also rejected a measure providing $50 million in investment tax credits for certified capital companies (CAPCOs) introduced by the governor earlier in the session. Gov. Pawlenty proposed the investment tax credits, which would be deferred until 2012, available to insurance companies for early-stage investments in CAPCOs.

The governor vetoed a bill that included a $10 million-a-year, 25 percent tax credit for angel investors, citing opposition to tax increases in other parts of the bill, reports the Star Tribune.

Gov. Pawlenty took final action on the state's two-year budget last month following approval of a spending plan by the legislature in May that left a $2.7 billion shortfall between spending and revenues, according to the governor's office. Executive actions taken to balance the budget include a $100 million reduction in higher education appropriations and a 2.25 percent reduction to most state agency operating budgets. This is in addition to the 5 percent reduction imposed on many agencies as part of the recently enacted budget.

The Omnibus Economic Development bill includes $200,000 each year of the 2009-11 biennium for the Office of Science and Technology (OST). The OST was created in 2008 to develop a collaborative partnership between industry, academia and government to coordinate federal funding procurement efforts in S&T in Minnesota. DEED received $400,000 in FY09 to expand current SBIR and STTR efforts and develop a process for technology partnering and commercialization to enhance the S&T funding and technology pipeline.

Lawmakers also approved $500,000 each fiscal year for the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota to recruit, retain and expand bio business activity, implement the Destination 2025 statewide plan, and update a statewide assessment of the bioscience industry.

The K-12 Education Omnibus bill approved by lawmakers includes $750,000 in FY10 for Math and Science Teacher Academies. The legislature approved $3 million for the creation of regional academies in 2007, which provide professional development and training opportunities to math and science teachers.

Reduced Funding Scales Back Indiana Life Sciences, Technology Development Initiatives

While maintaining a $1 billion reserve over the next biennium, the 2009-11 budget signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels reduces by half funding for the state's 21st Century Research and Technology Fund and appropriates only a fraction of the requested $70 million for the Indiana Innovation Alliance, an initiative to grow the state's life science industries.

Indiana's 21st Century Research and Technology Fund administered by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) will receive $35 million over the next two years - half the amount appropriated last biennium.

Supporting numerous entrepreneurial ventures over the last 10 years, IEDC uses the fund to offer loans and grants to companies bringing new technologies to market, to match SBIR grants, and to create University Centers of Excellence.

Additionally, no funding was included for IEDC's High Growth Business Incentive Fund, which received $3 million last biennium.

The Technology Development Grant Program, which supports the creation and expansion of technology parks, will receive $3.8 million over the biennium, $400,000 less than last biennium.

Lawmakers allocated $20 million over the next two years to establish the Indiana Innovation Alliance, a partnership between Indiana University (IU) and Purdue University. Hoping to bring more external funding into the state by providing matching funds for large-scale research grants and initiatives, the presidents of the two universities asked lawmakers for $70 million over the biennium to be divided among two priority areas. This included $25 million each year to enhance state-of-the-art core research capabilities for university and corporate research, specifically in bioeconmic areas, and $10 million each year to expand education and healthcare innovations by growing statewide medical and bioscience programs.

In the end, lawmakers approved just $10 million each year, allocating $5 million for core research for the two universities, $3 million for expansion of the IU School of Medicine, and $2 million for Purdue's health care technology assistance program, reports the Lafayette (IN) Journal and Courier.

Legislators also concurred with the governor's proposal to eliminate the $20 million Life Sciences Fund approved as a one-time appropriation last biennium to support recruitment and retention of world-class scientists specializing in life sciences at the Indiana School of Medicine.

Federal stimulus funds were allocated during the session to support several economic development projects in the higher education system. Specifically, the enacted budget includes $20 million in bond authority for a drug discovery center at Purdue University West Lafayette and $10 million for the Midwest Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery, a partnership between industry, Purdue University, and the University of Notre Dame. Launched in March 2008, the collaboration is one of four across the nation designed to create new research opportunities that will lead to development of atomic-scale technologies and drive future computing breakthroughs, according to the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC). Additional funding comes from Notre Dame, IBM Corporation, SRC's Nanoelectronics Research Initiative, and the city of South Bend.

Another $5 million in federal stimulus funds was allocated to support the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship program to add new math and science teachers in underserved areas of the state and for startup costs to establish new Tech High Schools.

The 2009-11 enacted budget is available at:
http://www.in.gov/legislative/bills/1092/HE/HE1001.1.html.

High-Tech Industry Wins Big in Wisconsin

Gov. Jim Doyle signed the 2009-11 biennial budget last month, providing funding for university-based research and enhancing tax credits for angel and venture investors supporting high-tech R&D.

Several of the governor's priorities outlined earlier this year in the Digest as part of the state's stimulus plan were funded this session, including the following provisions to enhance the Angel Investment and Venture Capital Tax Credit programs, known as Act 255:

Tripling the Acceleration Wisconsin tax credit from $1 million to $4 million for angel and venture investors in support of startup technology companies, beginning retroactively for the 2008 tax year;

Tripling the annual pool of credits available from $5.5 million to $18.25 million per year for angel credits and from $6 million a year to $18.75 million a year for venture credits, beginning Jan. 1, 2011;

Raising the aggregate creditable investment from $8 million per year from any combination of angel or venture sources, beginning Jan. 1, 2011;

Allowing angel investors to claim the entire 25 percent credit on their investment in the first taxable year; and,

Permitting insurance companies to claim the venture capital investment tax credit against gross premium tax liability.

The enacted budget also funds several TBED initiatives from the governor's budget proposal (see the Feb. 25, 2009 issue of the Digest). They include:

Providing an R&D tax credit for businesses that increase R&D by more than 125 percent of the company's three-year R&D average in the form of an income and franchise tax credit worth $1 for every $1 investment above 125 percent beginning Jan. 1, 2011;

Creating a capital gains tax exemption for investments of up to $10 million in new businesses. The pool of available credits will be tripled beginning in 2011; and,

Exempting the sales and use tax for machinery and other tangible personal property used for qualified manufacturing or biotechnology research, effective Jan. 1, 2012;

In support of new job creation, the enacted budget consolidates five existing tax credit programs, including development zones, enterprise development zones, agricultural development zones, technology zones and airport development zones. The goal is to further target those credits to businesses that create jobs, invest capital, and provide training and retraining to new and incumbent workers, according to the governor's office.

University-based R&D investments include $8.2 million for the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery for research in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology. The institute is part of the Grow Wisconsin Plan first announced by the governor in 2003 (see the Sept. 19, 2003 issue of Digest).

The enacted budget also includes the governor's recommendation to provide $8 million over the biennium to establish University of Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiatives at the Madison, Stevens Point and River Falls campuses for projects to develop the next generation of bio-based fuels and energy. To establish the Wisconsin Genomics Initiative for research into personalized health care for disease identification and prevention, the budget appropriates $2 million in FY10.

Lawmakers allocated $25 million in FY11 for the Wisconsin Covenant Scholars grants. This appropriation will establish a funding base for the grants, which are available to students who maintain a B grade average who are entering into the higher education system in the fall of 2011.
The 2009-11 enacted budget is available at:

http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/acts/09Act028.pdf.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Battery innovation thrives in area

Firms work with wind, cars, grids

By Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: July 10, 2009

As an energy producer, wind is fickle: Maybe it'll blow when you need it. Maybe not.

So the race is on to find more efficient ways to store the electricity wind produces when it's blowing, so the lights can stay on when it isn't. A Milwaukee company is smack in the middle of that race - a player in a high-tech sector that local economic strategists hope will become a growth engine for the region.

"Wind has incredible potential to be a significant portion of the nation's energy supply," said Kevin Dennis, vice president of sales and marketing for ZBB Energy Corp. "But to be a reliable resource, it ideally needs to be coupled with energy storage and to be flexible in how the power is managed and controlled out to the grid."

A joint venture between ZBB Energy and Eaton Corp. earlier this month shipped its first rechargeable energy storage system for the renewable power sector to Ireland, where it is being installed alongside a wind turbine that is already providing half the power needed by the Dundalk Institute of Technology.

While Milwaukee's highest-profile economic development strategy has centered on freshwater technology during the past year, a secondary effort seeks to make the seven-county Milwaukee area a center for advanced battery research, development and manufacturing - exactly the type of work already going on at ZBB and several other area companies.

Wisconsin touts new economic development programs

By SCOTT BAUER Associated Press Writer
3:32 PM CDT, July 10, 2009

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin came up empty in the competition to land a new General Motors Corp. car plant, but tax breaks that were a part of the state's pitch may end up helping other businesses stay or expand.

"Coming in second or third on this GM plant may turn out to be a long-run blessing," said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, which advises the governor and Legislature on economic development and other issues.

GM closed its production plant in Janesville in April, cutting about 1,200 jobs. The state lobbied the auto giant to reopen the plant to make a new line of small cars, but GM chose a Michigan plant instead.

Janesville residents who hoped the plant would reopen might find it hard to believe that losing might really be a win. But the incentives designed for the automaker may end up luring other, more attractive businesses to Wisconsin, Still said.

New tax breaks, some of which were included in the state's $195 million pitch to GM, were passed by the Legislature this year despite a $6.6 billion budget shortfall.

Republicans have criticized the Democratic-controlled Legislature as bad for business because it balanced the state budget in part with $3 billion in higher taxes and fees. But Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's administration says it has overhauled the state's economic development incentives to make Wisconsin a leader in keeping and retaining jobs.

The new tax breaks, which emphasize investment and research and development, give Wisconsin "one of the most powerful economic development tools in the country," said Zach Brandon, executive secretary of the state Commerce Department. More here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Where's the startup action in Michigan?

MEDC leader calls on firms getting state funds to invest faster in local companies

Louis Aguilar / The Detroit News

The head of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. says venture capital and private equity firms given tens of millions in state money are taking too long to invest in local companies.

The Michigan 21st Century Investment Fund was set up three years ago with $109 million from Michigan's tobacco settlement revenue. Its goal is to help jump-start the state's new economy by giving the money to investors to fund Michigan startups.

But those investors have distributed only $35 million to a dozen Michigan businesses so far. The Michigan 21st Century Investment Fund dispersed its final $35 million to four more firms Monday, including one private equity and three venture capital firms. Eight previous investment firms and one company, Microposite Inc. of Auburn Hills, have received money from the fund.

"Given our economic situation, we would like to see more action," said Greg Main, CEO of the MEDC, which promotes economic growth. "I don't hear anyone saying to me that a deal isn't around. The deal flow is here."

State data show that the pool of venture capital funding in Michigan reached $1 billion in 2008, a $100 million increase from the previous year, and that $246 million was invested in Michigan businesses in 2008, a $141 million jump. More here.

Mich. finally gets good news with small car plant

By KATHY BARKS HOFFMAN and DAVID N. GOODMAN

ORION TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Michigan has snatched back a few of its fast-disappearing auto jobs, winning a high-stakes competition with two other states to build General Motors Corp.'s next-generation subcompact car.

The news is a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy Michigan economy that has seen unemployment hit a nation-leading 14.1 percent, lots of housing foreclosures, unpaid furlough days for state workers and uncertainty for thousands of others worried about whether they'll still be getting a paycheck in the months ahead.

GM said Friday it would use an idled midsize car plant in Orion Township, about 40 miles north of Detroit, to assemble small and compact cars. The automaker also had considered plants in Janesville, Wis., and Spring Hill, Tenn.

GM said it expects to start retooling the Orion assembly plant in late 2010, and run two shifts there by 2011, producing 160,000 vehicles annually. The move will save 1,200 jobs.

"We're delighted," Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said. "I think the impact of reopening that plant and making the small car here will have a huge long-term effect not just on Oakland County but southeast Michigan and help us address some of the real serious employment issues that we have in this region."

A spokesman for Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle said GM Manufacturing Vice President Tim Lee told the governor Friday morning that the automaker chose Michigan. More here.

Study is being sought for a crossing between Port Burwell and Ohio

Both Ohio senators in Washington have urged the Ontario government to fund a feasibility study for a Lake Erie ferry that could create a new border crossing at Port Burwell.

Senators George Voinovich and Sherrod Brown have asked the ministry responsible for rural economic development to favourably consider the request from the municipality of Bayham.

The senators said a proposed ferry from the Mentor area east of Cleveland would provide a new economic corridor between Ohio and Ontario which have $88 million in trade daily.

The $550-million proposal for six modern high-speed ferries to carry transport trucks, cars and passengers would alleviate road and border congestion, reduce pollution and provide a new link between two auto-reliant economies. A downturn in the auto sector has battered both jurisdictions which could benefit from new linkages. More here.

Michigan's wind energy biz gets big lift: $100 million GE investment

General Electric Corp. CEO Jeffrey Immelt and Gov. Jennifer Granholm today unveiled the details on a $100 million advanced manufacturing, technology and software center in Van Buren Township.

The GE facility will initially employ about 1,200 employees. It will help scientists and engineers develop next generation manufacturing technologies for GE’s renewable energy, aircraft engine, gas turbine and other technology products, Immelt said at a press conference.

Work at the facility will include developing new composites, machining, inspection, casting and coating technologies.

The work will be done in a 100,000-square-foot facility to be constructed on vacant land at the Visteon Village campus in Van Buren Township.

GE software and IT employees will be housed in some of the current Visteon Village buildings and new construction will mostly house an advanced manufacturing technology lab, Immelt said.

“We’ll be putting both machinery capability and technologies to really develop the next generation of manufacturing technology that helps us be productive and have higher quality,” Immelt said.

Granholm said at the press conference that the new facility helps Michigan diversify its high-tech industry and will provide a much needed boost to the state’s economy. She said GE’s decision to locate the facility in Michigan shows how much the state has to offer high-tech firms.

“We’ve got more engineering talent that’s hungry and ready to go than anywhere in the world, and you can’t have found a better place to be able to make it a success, and quickly,” Granholm said. GE plans to begin filling positions for the new facility by the end of 2009, Immelt said.

The jobs will pay about $100,000 per year, Granholm said. More here.

German Renewable Energy Company Chooses Indiana

VAT-Getriebetechnik (VAT), an international manufacturer of wind turbines and renewable energy-powered lighting systems, announced today the company's plans to locate its U.S. headquarters and first North American manufacturing and service facility here, creating more than 120 new jobs by 2011.

The company, a provider of vertical vane wind turbines and solar-and-wind powered street lighting for municipal or neighborhood use, will invest $3.3 million to locate its North American headquarters in Park One Business Park in Muncie-Delaware County. Initially, the marketing, installation, service and maintenance operations will locate in an existing Park One building as new construction and existing buildings are considered for the future operations.

"Finding ways to be more energy independent has become increasingly necessary in today's worldand I can't think of a better place than right here in Indiana to launch the newest developments in alternative energy," said Governor Mitch Daniels. "We are celebrating today as another global leader in renewable energy innovation has chosen to plant its North American roots in our state."

VAT will split its lines of business into VAT-Service, LLC, a service and maintenance division for wind turbine gear boxes, and VAT-Energies, LLC, a manufacturing division which will specialize in vertical vane wind turbine and solar-and-wind powered street lighting production. The company's vertical vanes and unique street lighting systems are installed in locations around the world including Green Point Stadium in Cape Town, South Africa, host of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

"We see, in the U.S. marketplace, great opportunity based on our expertise in wind technology and renewable lighting alternatives for both commercial and community applications. The 20 years of expertise we bring from Europe has enabled the VAT-Group to succeed globally. We anticipate the same success in the U.S. marketplace," said Oliver Viehweider, president of VAT-Getriebetechnik.

The German company currently employs more than 130 employees in Germany and other parts of Europe. The company will begin hiring engineers, service technicians, logistics managers and administrative staff later this year.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation offered VAT up to $1 million in performance-based tax credits and up to $100,000 in training grants based on the company's job creation plans. Delaware County will purchase $1.5 million in solar-and-wind powered lights and a vertical vane windmill from VAT at the request of Muncie-Delaware County Economic Development Alliance-Vision 2011.

"We are excited about the opportunity to bring VAT to Delaware County. Increasing the presence of alternative energy companies is a strong component of our community's economic development effort. These are the type of high-paying, high tech companies that we want to bring to our community," said Todd Donati, president of the Delaware County Commissioners.

VAT is the second group of companies specializing in wind and renewable energy components production to select Indiana for its U.S. headquarters in the past year. Last fall Brevini announced plans to locate its North American wind turbine gear box manufacturing facilities in Delaware County, creating 450 jobs and adding millions in new capital investment.

In a report released this week by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the number of clean energy jobs in Indiana grew by nearly 18 percent between 1998 and 2007, ranking the state first in the industrial Midwest in overall job growth in the clean energy economy.

Farmers Insurance Investing $84 Million to Expand Michigan Facility

Farmers Insurance will invest $84.4 million to expand its campus in Caledonia, Michigan, according to the Michigan governor's office. The company plans to create 1,600 new direct jobs and approximately 1,100 construction jobs with the project, which will include the construction of two new buildings that the Associated Press says will total 275,000 square feet. One building will house offices, a training facility, and a call center, while the other will be used for printing and distribution operations. Construction on the new space is scheduled to begin in the fall, with the buildings opening in the spring of 2011. "We're excited about the future and what it can mean for us in this location," says Robert Woudstra, Farmers' CEO, a native of nearby Grand Rapids. Farmers is a subsidiary of Zurich Financial Services of Switzerland. The governor's office says the state has offered Farmers a tax credit valued at $62.5 million and an employee training grant of up to $335,000; local governments are also considering tax abatement.

Michigan Commercial Bakery Investing $60 Million for Expansion

Roskam Baking Company, a producer of cereal, snacks and dry baking mixes for major food companies, will invest $60.5 million to expand its facility in Kentwood, Michigan, according to the Michigan governor's office. The project is expected to create at least 1,500 new direct jobs and approximately 1,600 construction jobs over the next five years; the Grand Rapids Press reports that the direct jobs will pay an average of $12.73 per hour plus benefits. The company plans to add new production lines to accommodate increased manufacturing contracts with new and existing customers. The state is offering Roskam a $20.1 million tax credit over the next 10 years; the Press reports that the company must invest at least $25 million and maintain a minimum of 1,000 new jobs by the sixth year of the deal in order to retain the tax breaks. The city is also expected to provide property tax abatements.

Customer Service Company Opening Call Center, Hiring 1,000+ in Ohio

PlusOne Communications, a new provider of customer care services to the healthcare and communications industries, will open a call center in Akron, Ohio, according to city officials. The company plans to begin operations at the beginning of next month with an initial work force of 30 employees, with plans to grow to 200 employees by fall and to more than 1,000 over the next 18 months. The Akron Beacon Journal reports that the center will be housed in the former Firestone Bank, renamed the Verge Building; the property is owned by Jill Bacon-Madden, wife of PlusOne Communications president Robert Madden. The building was purchased for $2 from the city in 2007, and Madden tells the Journal that the company has invested more than $5 million in renovations and equipment, with contributions from the city of approximately $1.5 million to improve sidewalks, lighting, parking, and landscaping. According to the Journal, company salaries will range from $20,000 to $30,000 per year for representatives, with mid-level managers earning $35,000 to $40,000 per year and upper managers earning $60,000 to $100,000 per year; employees will also receive benefits including medical insurance. "We have a great labor work force here," says Madden, quoted in the Journal. "We have people who are disciplined. They show up for work on time. They work hard when they are working."

Biotech Company Relocating Headquarters to Wisconsin

Exact Sciences Corporation, a molecular diagnostics company that is working on new methods to detect colorectal cancer, will relocate its corporate headquarters and R&D operations to Madison, Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin governor's office. The company expects to create up to 150 jobs over the next five years as it commercializes its research.

The company is currently located in Marlboro, Massachusetts. "We are grateful to Governor Doyle and the Department of Commerce for their support of Exact Sciences Corporation's relocation to Wisconsin," says Kevin Conroy, the company's president and CEO. "The assistance provided by the governor was a critical part of our relocation decision. We know from past experience that Wisconsin, and the Madison area in particular, is a great place to build a biotechnology company."

Conroy is a former president of a biotech company that has operations in Madison. The state will provide a $1 million loan to Exact Sciences to help with working capital and the purchase of new equipment. The governor's office did not provide information regarding the dollar amount of company's financial investment.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Grant helps explore alternative energy farming

By BRYAN SCHAAF
Staff Writer

WOOSTER -- A $250,000 grant for the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center will allow researchers to begin assessing the potential for farmers in Northeast Ohio to grow crops, not just for consumption, but also for purpose of alternative energy.

The grant, approved by members of the Fund for Our Economic Future, is the next step in the group's efforts to expand Northeast Ohio's $8.2 billion agriculture industry.

"We're trying to improve our overall business, and what we're doing is looking at what we can do in the agriculture sector," said Chris Thompson, director of marketing and communications for the Fund. "What can we do to shift from more commodity agriculture to more specialty or value-added agriculture? Or from locally grown foods to growing crops for biomass? The Fund understands the critical role agriculture plays in the vibrancy of our region. In Wayne County and other areas, protecting and enhancing agricultural land is a top priority for communities, and we want to find ways of helping them achieve that goal.

According to an FFEF release, there are more than 2,200 farms in Northeast Ohio and about 40 percent of the region's land is used for agriculture.

Much of that land, though, is limited to commodity products, and each year more land is lost to residential and commercial development.

Fund member Lud Huck said there are currently several individuals doing research work around Northeast Ohio, and part of the grant will be used to tie those researchers together.

"This is going to touch everybody in Northeast Ohio," said Huck. "This is a strong move into the development of agriculture both for food purposes and commercial purposes in the area of alternative energy. This is a research module for a year that will put the tools together and develop a method of communicating information amongst all interested agriculture people in the region."

Huck said crops, such as Russian dandelions, which produce latex that can be used in natural rubber, and the jatropha plant, which has nuts that produce larger amounts of oils that can be used in ethanol, would be prevalent alongside traditional plantings like corn and soybeans.
"There are 15,000 vacant lots in Cuyahoga County alone where products like these could be grown that have commercial industrial value," Huck said.

Fund members concur that expanding the region's specialty agriculture production would result in higher incomes and job growth, and would also preserve the region's natural assets.

"Agriculture is a critically important industry to the economic future of our region, and this research will identify options to accelerate its growth," said Peter Meisel of the Meisel Family Foundation and co-chairman of the Fund committee that recommended the grant.

Dr. Casey Hoy, an entomologist at OARDC with a focus on agroecosystem health, will oversee much of the research, which is scheduled to be completed by next summer.

Hoy has already been working to build local sustainable food networks in the region, which is backed by a $2.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.

"Agriculture is certainly one of the biggest industries in Ohio, and Northeast Ohio leads the pack in that whole area," said Dr. William Ravlin, assistant director at OARDC. "The idea is rather than shipping in produce from Florida, California, Mexico or somewhere else, what is the potential to produce food locally and distribute it? And what is the potential to do so with a solid product that efficiently links food production with consumers and builds the local economy as a whole?"

Huck said the $250,000 grant not only has the support of the Fund, but also the Wayne Economic Development Council and Wayne Growth Partnership.

In addition to Hoy, Brian Gwin and Rod Crider from the WEDC, Jim Currie from the OARDC and Adam Briggs from the Shoolroy Foundation have also been instrumental in moving the project forward.

Reporter Bryan Schaaf can be reached at 330-287-1645 or bschaaf@the-daily-record.com.