Sunday, May 28, 2000

BYCZKOWSKI: Web readiness


N. Ky. companies scrutinized

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        Does Northern Kentucky have a cluster of Internet companies? That's what the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce is trying to figure out.

        The chamber assigned two of its members to come up with a technology strategy. One is Kevin Canafax of Fidelity Investments. The other is lawyer Keith Johnson of Taft Stettinius & Hollister, which is a player in Main Street Ventures and a few dozen other technology efforts in town.

        The axiom these days, of course, is that every company needs to be a technology company. That said, there are three kinds of companies:

        • Those that are technology companies.

        • Those that understand they need to be but don't quite know how to get there.

        • Those that don't have a clue.

        The chamber frankly doesn't know how many companies in Northern Kentucky fall into those categories, Mr. Johnson indicated. You know the first group isn't the largest. The fear is the largest group is the last one.

        “Every business and every industry has to grapple with this issue, and you're either going to lead, follow or be done,” Mr. Johnson said.

        The chamber's primary goal will be to help traditional bricks-and-mortar businesses acquire the Internet expertise. There is an urgency: The nation's automakers have already said they won't do business with any company that's not connected, and it's not too far a leap to project that every big company in America will join that parade. Small businesses that don't connect will be left behind. “People haven't gotten that yet,” Mr. Johnson said.

        That means the region needs people with the technical skills to wire the local economy.

        The Cincinnati area won't compete with San Jose for technology dominance, but it will compete with Ann Arbor, Indianapolis, Nashville and cities in the Midwest and near South for regional importance.

        “There's going to emerge certain technology centers and others are going to be left behind,” he said. “We need to make sure we're out in front at least in respect to this region of the country.”

        Mr. Johnson admitted that the commonwealth has some catching up to do with Ohio, which has already begun awarding state grants to help technology businesses get off the ground. Gov. Paul Patton is forming a technology council, and the legislature approved $55 million for loans and seed money to get high-tech efforts off the ground.

        How much of that will find its way to Northern Kentucky? That depends on how fast the locals figure out what they've got and what they need, Mr. Johnson said.

        Anyone with information that might be useful to the chamber can contact Mr. Johnson (513-381-2838 or johnsonk@taftlaw.com) or Mr. Canafax (859-386-7155 or kevin.canafax@fmr.com).

        My note two weeks ago on First Tuesday coming to town piqued interest in the international e-business networking group. The idea is a takeoff on “think globally, act locally,” with local organizations that bring entrepreneurs and sponsors together and tying them in to similar groups internationally.

        The first meeting of the Cincinnati group is set for Aug. 1. Vince Broerman of HomesThatClick.com, who's organizing the group, said the first series of monthly meetings will focus on helping ideas jell, culminating in a “matchmaking event” linking entrepreneurs to potential sponsors.

        E-mail John at johnb@enquirer.com or call 768-8377. Check out his New Economy page.

       



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