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County officials to spend cash for innovation

Friday, May 19, 2006

Tom Breckenridge

Plain Dealer Reporter

Cuyahoga County commissioners are plowing a growing amount of cash into the quest for business innovation.


Commissioners have paid $90,000 to a consulting team led by Ed Morrison, an economic development specialist whose creed is business growth through collaboration.


The commissioners voted Thursday to send $110,000 more to Morrison's team. The money is drawn from a $1.5 million pot that commissioners set aside this year to spur the local economy.


The investments are modest, considering the struggling region's monumental thirst for capital and new business.


But the commissioners and Morrison's team believe they can leverage tens of millions of dollars in private investment by strategically injecting tax dollars into emerging business sectors or "clusters," like medical devices and advanced manufacturing.


Morrison's team is also building innovation networks, in which business executives, investors, academicians and nonprofit leaders meet to brainstorm potential growth and act on promising trends in the local knowledge economy.


The effort is an outgrowth of a blue-ribbon economic development task force, assembled two years ago by Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones.


The task force and Morrison's team crafted an 80-page action plan geared to make the most of the county's scant resources for economic development.


It's a different approach in Cleveland's hierarchical business community, where company executives typically don't share their Rolodexes.


Morrison encouraged innovation through weekly development forums at Case Western Reserve University, where he once directed the Center for Regional Economic Issues.


That's where entrepreneur Herb Crowther hooked up with combustion expert Phil Lane. The two men formed Midwest Biofuels LLC, which sells soybean-based biodiesel fuel to truck fleets.


Morrison's collaborative approach "allows ideas to bubble up faster and get some footing," Crowther said. "It looks for less traditional ways of associating businesses that can help each other."


To foster such business growth, the commissioners plan to spread the $1.5 million among several initiatives.


Under North Coast Clusters, the county would work with groups like Nortech, a technology-focused development group, to bring promising technologies to market.


Jones said Nortech and NASA have already inquired whether chunks of the "clusters" money could be used to leverage state grants for research and new-product development.


Under Cuyahoga Innovation Zones, the county wants to invest in areas like Midtown Corridor, where the combination of high-tech companies, universities and the Euclid Corridor transit project provides fertile ground for business growth.


To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:


tbreckenridge@plaind.com, 216-999-4695

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