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Forum addresses regional economic development

Oct. 12, 2007
By Jessica Alfrey

An expert business panel convened at Ohio University's Walter Hall Rotunda on Thursday to discuss ways to encourage economic development in the Southeast Ohio region.

The Ohio Midwest Fund was created by the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System and is managed by Credit Suisse. Thursday's lecture, hosted by the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs and Adena Ventures, brought together a diverse group of people from business, finance, education and economic development to raise awareness of the $102 million Ohio PERS/Credit Suisse Ohio-Midwest Fund. The fund is designed to invest in Ohio assets to stimulate economic growth in the region.

Ohio University President Roderick McDavis addressed the audience, emphasizing the university's commitment to regional economic development. 

"We are committed to helping build companies, and we take that commitment very seriously. We don't simply talk the talk, we walk the walk," McDavis said. "We are the largest employer in Southeast Ohio. We feel like we have a responsibility to Athens and the region."

The university spins off companies that are based on its research, such as Diagnostic Hybrids, which has proven to be job- and economy-booster in the Athens region and is home to more than 40 research institutes, including the Appalachian Rural Health Institute. 

Melford Carter, the in-state investment specialist for Credit Suisse, talked about overcoming the culture of caution.  "Here in the Midwest, it's more important to not fail than to succeed," he said, "and that doesn't lead to risk-taking."

"Between 2000 and 2006," Carter said, "the money invested in the Midwest only accounted for 5 to 6 percent of all venture money invested." By holding forums such as Thursday's, the hope is that those numbers will change.

Other speakers included Kevin Aspegren, director of the Voinovich School's Appalachian Regional Entrepreneurship Group, and Lynn Gellermann, president of Adena Ventures, a venture capital group located in Athens that partners with the university and Voinovich School.

Aspegren called the forum an opportunity to help break down negative perceptions about Southeast Ohio as a place to do business. He also discussed the influence of the Entrepreneurial Signature Program, part of the statewide Third Frontier initiative. ESP is providing $15 million for 19 Southeast Ohio counties: $10 million for investing in companies, $3 million for a business startups and $2 million for angel investing. Aspegren explained that instead of borrowing money, company owners taking advantage of ESP can offer equity in their companies. 

"So if I loan you money in return for 20 percent of the company and you end up selling the business for a million dollars down the road, you would get $800,000 and I would get $200,000," Aspegren said.

Gellermann noted that since 2002, Adena Ventures has invested $16 million in 10 companies and provided another $4.5 million in operational assistance to 70 companies.

Forums such as Thursday's at Ohio University are held quarterly throughout the state; past locations have included Akron, Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton and Youngstown. 

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