Dayton focused on attracting, growing tech businesses

The city of Dayton and the Dayton Development Coalition are both working to attract small businesses to the region, and what they’ve found is that it’s critical to nurture the talent it already has.

Located at the intersection of I-70 and I-75, Dayton not only has easy access to all of Ohio’s highway transportation networks, it also has two assets that make the city appealing to business owners and entrepreneurs: Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and a 1.5 trillion gallon acquifer.

WPAFB is home to the Air Force Research Laboratory, a research engine that drives a considerable amount of economic activity in the region and, in part, has guided the Dayton Development Coalition’s focus on four industries: aerospace systems, advanced materials and manufacturing, information technology and advanced data management, and human sciences and health care.

Each of those industry segments are doing well for a variety of reasons, including the strong technologies developed in the region, the educated and capable workforce available to small and large business, and the cost of doing business, says Scott Koorndyk, vice president of technology commercialization at the Dayton Development Coalition.

“Real estate, utility costs, and other business costs are affordable as compared to similar cities of our size,” he says.

Additionally, the DDC is a founding member of the Water Technology Innovation Cluster, which was formed in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protective Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“The region is unique in that we have access to virtually unlimited water resources, colleges and universities that are at the forefront of water technology and educational development, and a comprehensive ‘test bed’ made up of many different systems that can validate new water technologies and devices,” he says.

In the nine months the cluster has been in existence, it has steadily developed itself, and is now actively seeking to attract small businesses that can benefit from the advantages that a water-focused organization −made up of economic development organizations, small and large businesses, utilities, educational institutions, and venture capital organizations− can provide, he adds.

As Dayton is working especially hard to attract businesses that specialize in highly advanced technologies, the region hasn’t experienced much success with traditional marketing channels.

“Instead, we’ve found that our strongest channels for attracting businesses to the region are the relationships we have with existing small business and collaborative partners,” he says. “Nothing attracts businesses like other successful businesses! When you harness the power of the deeply collaborative relationships we enjoy with our partners, we are able to put our regional ‘story’ in front of hundreds of companies each year.”

Those relationships have resulted in companies that came to the Dayton region from California, Massachusetts, Michigan and, most recently, Canada.

Echoing Koorndyk’s sentiment, Rebecca Jantonio, senior development specialist for the Dayton Office of Economic Development, says that targeting growth industries −including existing businesses− brings new companies to the city and helps existing businesses grow.

“By developing long-term business relationships, we continually maximize opportunities for economic development and growth,” she adds. “In 2010, our staff met with nearly 150 businesses to assess their growth needs. As a result, the city helped to retain almost 2,400 jobs and create almost 500 new jobs. We also secured $7.5 million in non-local project funding.”

Several other entities also assist small business owners and entrepreneurs.

“The Dayton Business Resource Connection is the city’s latest initiative to support the growth and success of area businesses,” she says. “The DBRC provides local businesses with convenient access to a comprehensive set of the resources necessary by housing all the local economic development agencies in one convenient location.”

The DBRC and its partners, which include the Dayton Office of Economic Development, CityWide Development, the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Dayton Partnership, put business owners in touch with the proper resources to assist them through the requirements associated with starting or expanding a business in Dayton.

“DBRC staff members will be happy to visit your place of work or have you visit us,” she says. “One-on-one visits are personalized, confidential, and free of charge.”

The DDC, through its Entrepreneurial Signature Program and associated community partners, provides a variety of support services to technology-based small businesses, including technology and business validation and incubation, entrepreneurial match-making, mentoring, and counseling.

“Our ESP also provides startup companies with critical seed-stage financing for two related purposes,” Koorndyk says. “When a company is developing its business plans and is bumping up against barriers that are preventing them from advancing, we provide capital to help them overcome those variables. For example, we often fund intellectual property protections, market research projects, or the retention of an external expert to help the company resolve a challenging business issue.”

Other small business development resource providers include Aileron, the Dayton Small Business Development Center, the Dayton Service Corps of Retired Executives, The Entrepreneur Center, and the Minority Contractors Business Assistance Program.

To learn more about the Dayton Development Coalition, visit DaytonRegion.com.

To learn more about the Dayton Office of Economic Development, visit CityofDayton.org.

Skyline photo courtesy of the Dayton Development Coalition.