Friday, August 17, 2001

Butler Co. gets high-tech help

Calif. executives visit, share expertise

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Butler County, which is hoping to attract high-technology businesses, is tapping the expertise of a company that's managing a high-tech business incubator in Oakland, Calif.

        Joseph Gross, the president and chief executive officer of Sustainable Systems Inc., told the county commissioners Thursday how his company started a high-tech business incubator in 1996 in downtown Oakland, which was choked with drugs, crime and vacant buildings.

        In five years, the incubator, Communications Technology Cluster, has attracted $250 million in venture capital, launched 25 high-growth, high-tech businesses and helped revitalize Oakland's economy and image.

        Butler County faces far less daunting obstacles than Oakland did in developing a high-tech center, Mr. Gross said.

        “Butler County has the raw materials,” he said. “Butler County is at the hub. It has Cincinnati to the south, Dayton and an Air Force base (Wright-Patterson) to the north and Miami University. It has the human capital.”

        The Butler County commissioners brought Mr. Gross and Katherine Kim, president of Communications Technology Cluster, to Hamilton to share their experience and knowledge in a series of meetings Thursday with county officials, community and business leaders, and Miami University officials.

        The commissioners have embarked on a plan to reshape the county's economy by catching the high-tech wave.

        They're leaning toward raising the county sales tax by a half-cent to generate revenue to pay for road improvements and other projects that would make the county more attractive to high-tech companies.

        Although high-tech centers originated in Silicon Valley, Midwestern communities such as Butler County can compete successfully for high-tech firms with West and East coast communities, Ms. Kim said.

        “Most of the entrepreneurs have worked for 10 to 15 years,” she said. “Their businesses decisions are not based on whether they can see a beach. They make their decisions based on hard business factors.”

        High-tech centers are developing throughout the country, in such diverse places as Austin, Texas; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Omaha, Neb., Mr. Gross said.


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