Region LIGHTs with technology and innovation

 

Colton Nissen, a senior undergraduate mechanical engineering major in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, is insulating and heat tracking a section of the supercritical water reactor that is designed to remediate flow back water from horizontally drilled, hydraulically fractured shale wells. (Photo courtesy of Ohio University)

An innovative new program promotes job creation and collaboration in Appalachia

By Wesley Ratko 
Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty program began with a speech delivered in Athens, Ohio. 
While addressing a crowd on Ohio University’s main campus in May 1964,President Johnson kicked off his push to pass the signature legislative achievement of his presidency. The legacy and effectiveness of that initiative remain controversial, but its impacts are still felt across Appalachia and Southeast Ohio.
That day, he said: “And with your courage and with your compassion and your desire, we will build the Great Society. It is a Society where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled. Where no man who wants work will fail to find it.”
Among the programs to come out of that drive was the Appalachian Regional Commission, formed in 1965 to direct federal dollars to the 420 distressed counties along the rugged Appalachian mountain chain.
Last August, the ARC awarded a $2 million grant to Ohio University’s Innovation Center to fund an initiative called LIGHTS: Leveraging Innovation Gateways and Hubs Toward Sustainability.
LIGHTS is a new program intended to strengthen the connections between pre-existing innovation hubs in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky into a cohesive network that will provide expertise, training and resources to the regional workforce and the employers that hire them.
Stacy Strauss, newly-named director of the Ohio University Innovation Center,says the target is to create more than 1,100 new jobs, spawn 125 new businesses,and attract $25 million in new investment across the 28-county region within a six-year period.
“It takes 3 to 5 years to establish a business, so the metrics go out to six years,” Strauss says, adding that the funding only lasts for three years. She also says that while there are no penalties if the metrics aren’t met. However, falling short of those goals could impede future efforts to apply for additional grants.Funding recipients will have a quarterly reporting requirement to report their progress.
“The logic is that to take people who have always worked with their hands — in industries like coal mining or energy distribution — and tweak it so they can still work with their hands,” Strauss says.
The Innovation Center’s role will be to distribute those funds to users like the Athens MakerSpace and the IDEA lab at Zane State among others, based on the roles each will play in the network. The grant will be used to hire staff and provide equipment and material support.
The initiative is not limited to for-profit enterprises.“The ARC believes that any job is a job,” Strauss says. 
Strauss added that this will enable the Innovation Center to work with any type of entrepreneur beyond the technology sector. They also hope to see businesses that use 3-D printing, carpentry and small-batch manufacturing. The grant will not focus on food, retail or wellness, areas that are already provided for with funds from the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet).
Two such hubs include Ohio University’s Innovation Center and the Muskingum County Business Incubator (MCBI), which have a long history of cooperation.
Headed by Executive Director Larry Triplett, the MCBI is a standalone incubator in Zanesville. Funded by a state grant called TechGROWTH Ohio,these hubs are part of a common entrepreneurial ecosystem working to get people into jobs in Southeast Ohio.
TechGROWTH (TGO)is a partnership through which entrepreneurs and technology start-up companies in Southeast Ohio can access business assistance and sources of capital to aid with writing business plans, product development,legal services, marketing and executive recruitment. The program helps companies prepare to access seed-stage and angel investment capital, as well as research grants and loans.
These resources have helped area companies generate tens of millions of dollars in additional economic activity. TGO targets seed-stage technology companiesin sectors including, but not limited to: advanced energy, biomedical,information technology, advanced materials and electronics.
Under LIGHTS, that innovation network will be strengthened by bringing together multiple centers for innovation in Zanesville and Athens with those in Marietta and at Shawnee State.
At Zane State in Muskingum County, the IDEA lab is a high-tech workshop with a precision cutting machine (called a CNC), a 3-D printer, carpentry facilities and CAD-based tools, all designed to help entrepreneurs and innovators realize their product ideas and plan for their commercialization. Because of the LIGHTS grant, the MCBI can be physically adjacent to the IDEA lab and the inventors working on prototypes for product ideas. The MCBI will help those inventors commercialize their product. “The opportunity is huge and really exciting,” Triplett says.
Zane State will provide space, marketing and accounting support, in order to facilitate a synergistic partnership between the IDEA lab and the Business Incubator.
“We’re excited about moving beyond office space and providing a space where anyone with a product idea has a place to get help commercializing it,” Triplett says.
“I’m pretty optimistic about the future of the region,” Triplett says. “The shift to Zane State will bring new businesses to MCBI and we’re going to see more business opportunity than ever.”

Ambitious Energy: Local organization works to promote energy efficiency and energy education

by Samantha Nelson

Upgrade Athens County is a nonprofit organization and an energy efficiency movement competing for the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition. This two-year-long competition, which ends Dec. 31, 2016, brings communities together from across the United States to increase energy efficiency, and the community that reduces the most energy consumption will win $5 million.
Upgrade Athens County’s mission is to engage Appalachian citizens and spread energy efficiency awareness and improve the region’s long-term economic and environmental sustainability. The organization, which will continue to exist after the competition ends, has expanded its project reach in the hopes of reducing energy consumption and increasing energy efficiency statewide.
Projects include:
 Free renewable energy site assessments through the United States Department of
Agriculture’s Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) Energy Audit and
Renewable Energy Development Assistance Program (EA/REDA). The program is accessible to small businesses and agricultural producers in Athens, Gallia, Hocking,
Meigs, Morgan, Perry, Vinton and Washington counties.

 The Better Buildings Initiative, which encourages commercial, public, industrial and residential buildings to be 20 percent more energy efficient over the next decade and greatly reduce spending costs on energy.

 Collaborating with the Ohio University Credit Union to help finance car shoppers who purchase a zero-emission electric vehicle.

 Solar energy workshops and tours of homes and businesses that use solar energy.

 The Rental Efficiency Initiative, which provides information to renters and landlords on how to improve energy efficiency in rental properties through the Smart Renter email campaign, LED light bulb distribution and a landlord engagement campaign.

 The Energy Education Fund, which provides financial support to organizations that either want to start or improve their energy efficient educational programs for K-12 students.