Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tech Belt Initiative

I've found three press clippings about the Tech Belt Initiative (TBI). In Pittsburgh, the reaction is positive:

"I think this is a brilliant idea," said Virginia Pribanic, CEO of MedRespond LLC, a South Side-based health care information technology company whose software simulates conversations online. People who type medical questions on a computer can view videos providing answers, she said.

At a recent meeting arranged by the Life Sciences Greenhouse, Pribanic said she learned of three companies in Ohio that could help to enhance her business.

"For entrepreneurs, it can be hard to make connections from region to region," she said. "Thanks to this meeting, I was able to learn of three companies that could be a great match for us."

Ms. Pribanic describes one of the potential advantages of increasing inter-regional ties. Despite advances in telecommunications, knowledge still doesn't travel far from its place of creation. The Tech Belt Initiative can help break down such barriers and spur more economic growth.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer builds on the theme of expanding the pool of opportunity:

The effort springs from collaboration between BioEnterprise, Northeast Ohio's bioscience-development group, and its counterpart, the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse.

The two organizations have exchanged venture capital leads and new business resources for more than a year.

Combined, the two regions drew more than $343 million in venture capital for health care startups in 2007, evidence of rising national interest, said BioEnterprise President Baiju Shah.

"The message has resonated with venture investors," Shah said. "They are surprised about the proximity. They can fly into one city and drive to the other."

I suspect that the proximity advantages would surprise many of the people residing within the Tech Belt. I've witnessed firsthand the lack of awareness about neighboring communities throughout the Cleveburgh corridor. One of the better lessons we can learn from studying globalization is that increased connectivity helps spur economic growth. We need a new political geography to match the economic opportunities emerging from more global markets.

Keystone Edge offers a glimpse of what that new landscape might look like:

At the same time, the initiative forecasts a sober outlook for most of the region - especially Northeast Ohio, unless there is a substantial increase in technology-based investment. That's the program for which the initiative wants to gain support from Washington--a message it put out at the end of last week before voters chose the next U.S. president on Tuesday.

The request to Washington calls for continuing programs that accelerate technological change. The Initiative's 27-organization steering committee wants the 134-mile-long Tech Belt to be recognized as a Premier Innovation Zone. It also seeks continued support for technological innovation by small businesses, reinstatement of manufacturing extension partnerships, continuation of alternative energy tax credits, and more funding of research by universities and industries into strategies and projects that help regions in transition.

I believe the designation of a "Premier Innovation Zone" is a policy innovation and that such areas currently do not exist, at least at the federal level. The program could identify a number of Premier Innovation Zones throughout the United States as a national strategy for economic development. This would dovetail nicely with Richard Herman's idea to provide H-1B cap relief to regions in need of talent for purposes of growth.

I like that TBI is a bottom-up construction, not waiting for the federal government to take the lead. The mega-region needs to continue to build up social capital and work through the local political barriers. Help the Tech Belt take the next step by attending the 2nd Regional Learning Network event this Friday in Youngstown.

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