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Groups to work on business incubator

Survey asks what would help start businesses

The City of Ironton, Ohio University and others are in discussions about the possibility of bringing a business incubator to Lawrence County.

The idea comes from the LIGHTS Regional Innovation program, based at OU in Athens, which helps assist regional counties, including Lawrence County in Ohio, Greenup and Boyd counties in Kentucky and Cabell County in West Virginia. In 1983, OU in Athens began the first university-based business incubator in Ohio and the 12th in the nation. In 2003, the Innovation Center was opened to offer businesses a shared workspace with access to office equipment and access to experts to help coach and provide insight. It currently houses 19 businesses.

Ironton Mayor Katrina Keith said that people from LIGHTS came down and talked to her, members of the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation, the Ironton-Lawrence CAO, the Tri-State Angel Investment Group, Ohio State University Southern’s Centers Endeavor Center and the Robert C. Byrd Institute at Marshall University.

“They came to discuss about having a business incubator in Lawrence County,” she said. “We thought that would be another aspect of lending support to people who want to open a business but don’t have the capital to do that right away. This would give people a space to share and help them to get situated, get a good start and then branch out on their own.”

The group met last March to talk on what would be a good fit for this area. Some of the ideas kicked around included starting a manufacturing incubator at The Point industrial park in South Point, a hybrid workspace in Ironton, focusing on retail as an option, with co-working space, meeting and training rooms, event space and more. If these options were selected, they could operate under a shared management system as a business service organization.

“Those were just preliminary discussions,” Keith said.

Right now, there is a survey on the City of Ironton’s Facebook page, Ironton-OH Government, asking questions of people from the Tri-State who are interested in starting a business or expanding an existing business. The survey takes about five minutes.

At various town halls and Ironton City Council meetings, there has been much talk about the need for creating jobs and Keith said the idea of an incubator to help create small companies would be a good thing for Ironton and Lawrence County.

“Absolutely. Anything we can do to help spark new development, new business, we owe it to people to investigate that option.”

Sara Diamond Burroway, director of workforce success at OUS, said that workforce development is one of the areas that OUS is involved in and interested in for the community and the March 2018 meeting helped formalized an initiative called Workforce Success.

That initiative includes OUS offering trainings, meetings and seminars for small and emerging businesses in the area.

Nicole Pennington, dean of Ohio University Southern, said a strategic approach to economic development would enhance resources available to area businesses.

“Since March 2018, Ohio Southern’s Workforce Success efforts have provided custom training to small and emerging businesses and we expect the demand for services to continue,” she said. “Collaboration will be key to successful strategies moving forward.”

Burroway said that OUS had reached 372 people including small and emerging business owners, entrepreneurs, people interested in small businesses and others in the area’s employment base.

“All that has lead us to the survey and this assessment period where we can study the feasibility of a small business incubator,” she said.