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Toledo leaders eye millions in innovation hub funds

Posted By: The Toledo Blade on April 18, 2023.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

Toledo business leaders want an innovation-hub designation and, with it, potentially tens of millions of dollars in grants that will help the region add technical and white-collar jobs to the strong growth of blue-collar jobs attracted over the past five years, executives told an annual meeting audience Tuesday of the Regional Growth Partnership of Northwest Ohio.

Toledo is preparing to compete with other medium-sized cities for a pot of state money recently proposed for innovation hubs as well as $10 billion in federal money contained in last year’s CHIP and Science Act, said RGP Chairman Jim Hoffman, who is retiring July 1 as the local president of KeyBank.

The hubs are aimed specifically at small and medium-sized cities with skilled and educated labor forces needing to transition to new technology.

A traditional automotive, manufacturing and glass-making center, Toledo businesses are looking to reduce their carbon footprints, Mr. Hoffman said last week.

Examples include General Motors retooling the former Toledo Transmission plant, now Toledo Propulsion, from transmissions to electric-vehicle drives and truck drivetrain maker Dana Inc. transforming its Maumee technical complex to EV subassembly research and development.

At the RGP annual meeting, Mr. Hoffman said the RGP is collaborating with the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and ConnecToledo to fashion an innovation hub strategy with industry and local universities to win a transformational grant.

How much money will be available for state innovation hubs is an open question. As part of an ongoing budget process for next year, the Ohio House of Representatives this week cut Governor Mike DeWine’s $150 million proposal for state innovation hubs to $25 million.

Mr. Hoffman said Senate input and negotiations will ultimately determine where the number comes in. The state innovation hubs are designed for medium-sized and smaller cities, not Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.

In the meantime, Toledo intends to simultaneously seek a grant from the much larger federal pool of innovation funds, Mr. Hoffman said.

“We’ll pursue federal hub funding for sure and perhaps accelerate our work in that direction,” he said.

The annual meeting, the first live since the coronavirus, drew nearly 500 attendees at The Pinnacle event center in Maumee.

Northwest Ohio has the talent, transportation, and quality of living to attract white-collar businesses and workers to the area, according to presenter Bob Hess, vice chair of Newmark Global Strategy & Consulting.

The RGP commissioned Newmark, a renowned commercial site-selection company, to perform an 18-month study of the assets in Toledo that might make it attractive to a technology or white-collar company looking to expand. The cost of the study was not disclosed.

Newmark found that Toledo “punches above its weight” vs. cities of similar size in having the qualities technology companies want.

That’s consistent with an evaluation performed by the Economic Innovation Group, a policy think tank in Washington, D.C., that found Toledo well-positioned to compete for a federal innovation hub grant given the criteria in the CHIP and Science Act.

The group said Toledo ranked in the top 5 cities nationally because Toledo businesses had the talent and potential to transform to new technology and an intense need.

Other ranking cities are Greenville, S.C., Provo, Utah, Tucson, Ariz., and Greensboro, N.C.

Annual meeting speakers said the area has done a good job over the past five years of attracting investment in manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture and their blue-collar jobs.

RGP President and CEO Dean Monske said about 100 expansion projects have been undertaken over the past year in the 17 counties that comprise Northwest Ohio.

Those projects cost $3.4 billion, created 3,353 jobs, and retained another 14,589 jobs, he said.

For example, Abbott Laboratories announced a $570 million new plant in Bowling Green that will make baby formula and other nutritional supplements. That project will create 450 jobs.

Over the past five years, Northwest Ohio has seen $13 billion in capital investment, creating 25,000 jobs, Mr. Hoffman said.

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