Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Local high-tech sector to receive jump start

Pillar Project pairs large and small companies

By James McNair
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Pining to see Greater Cincinnati develop a technology cluster to join its other industrial strengths, a group of business leaders introduced a tech-bootstrapping program Monday that takes a Big Brothers and Big Sisters approach.

        The group, called CincyTechUSA, reckons it has everything to gain and nothing to lose by raising the region's technological visi bility. As of 1998, the last data available, Greater Cincinnati ranked 46th among 60 U.S. markets in high-tech employment, according to the American Electronics Association — compared with 46th in 1993.

        Johnathan Holifield, CincyTechUSA's executive director, said a robust technology sector would guarantee the region's long-term economic vitality.

        “The best jobs will be knowledge-based jobs,” he said Monday. “It's not as important to build the quantity of jobs as it is quality jobs, and the quality jobs of tomorrow will have a tech component.”

        Launched in November 2000 by Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley, Cincy- TechUSA calls for the creation of a venture-capital fund — now at $20 million — and government-industry cooperation. It's a third plank, dubbed the Pillar Company Project Plan, that distinguishes this from other tech efforts.

        In essence, it calls for big,

        established companies such as P&G, Fifth Third and GE Aircraft Engines to nurture relationships with startups that provide them with hardware, software or other high-tech services.

        The relationship could involve seed capital, management expertise or a revenue stream for the local startup. The hope is that smaller companies would grow and springboard into national stature — mostly of their own doing.

        “I can assure you that Cincinnati Bell is not going to venture into a relationship with any of these companies unless it makes economic sense,” said Jack Cassidy, president of Cincinnati Bell and chairman of CincyTechUSA.

        “This isn't a charity case. Nobody's going to do business with anybody whose business plans and concepts don't do anything for them.”

        Citing the region's low operating costs, broadband availability and universities, Mr. Cassidy said the Tristate has the foundation for a groundswell of technology businesses.

        Startups looking for a “pillar company” sponsor would apply through one of the region's technology organizations, then be reviewed by CincyTechUSA staff.


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