MARIETTA - The Sternwheel Ballroom at the Lafayette Hotel was filled with business owners, entrepreneurs and members of the investment community Friday during the "Re-Inventing Small Business in Appalachia" seminar.
The seminar was sponsored by TechGROWTH Ohio, a program housed at Ohio University and funded by the state Development Department's Third Frontier initiative. The goal was to let small businesses know what assistance is available to them and provide feedback on business proposals.
TechGROWTH Ohio's purpose is to assist entrepreneurs financially, and provide them with tools for growth. It is geared toward start-up, technologically innovative businesses.
Photo by Ashley Hill
From left, Andrew Olson, TechGROWTH Ohio executive in residence, U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Ohio, John Glazer, TechGROWTH Ohio director, Phyllis Bohning, TechGROWTH Ohio Deal flow coordinator, and Faith Knutsen, TechGROWTH Ohio associate director, stand in front of a TechGROWTH Ohio display Friday during the “Re-Inventing Small Business in Appalachia” seminar at the Lafayette Hotel in Marietta.
The Third Frontier initiative aims to expand the state's technological strengths and promote commercialization that results in prosperous economic growth throughout the state. In May, Ohio residents will vote on whether to allow the state to issue $700 million in bonds over four years to keep the program going.
Friday's event featured several speakers, including U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Ohio, Marietta Mayor Michael Mullen and TechGROWTH Ohio director John Glazer.
Mullen discussed the need for improved access to broadband service.
"In some parts of Appalachia, the connectivity to broadband is quite prevalent," Mullen said. "Until we get to the point where we can say we're 80 percent user-friendly and wireless, we'll be a day late and a dollar short."
Glazer discussed the TechGROWTH program in detail, and emphasized the importance of small business growth in southeastern Ohio.
"The state of Ohio and the Third Frontier program is one of the most innovative in the nation to stimulate small businesses," Glazer said.
Wilson was the keynote speaker at the seminar.
"Along this river, we have a great workforce," Wilson said. "We have the use of water, coal, a great highway system, and there's no reason we shouldn't be able to bring real business to this area."
Wilson announced he'll introduce a bill later this month that will establish student loan forgiveness for college graduates who enter into certain advanced energy-related careers. It would result in a write-off of up to $5,000 for up to a five-year period.
"Education is the raising of all levels so our people will be prepared for job opportunities," the congressman said.
Wilson also acknowledged Friday's announcement that the national unemployment rate was 9.7 percent in January, a decrease from December's 10 percent rate.
There were about 40 protesters outside the hotel Friday morning. They included members of the Marietta 9-12 Project and T.E.A. Party, and there were also Athens and Cambridge residents on hand. Many carried signs demonstrating their opposition to Wilson's votes on various issues, including the government health care overhaul.
Glenn Newman, who helped organize the local 9-12 Project chapter, said the group confronted Wilson at the hotel Friday.
"He was quite stunned," Newman said.
Newman noted that the group told Wilson they were there to take him out of office and replace him with someone who "does care about southeast Ohio."
The 9-12 Project's stated goals are to educate citizens about the U.S. Constitution, evaluate those who hold political offices and motivate Democrats, Republicans and independents who feel that they don't have a political home at the present time.
Friday's event is one of six that have been scheduled in the southeast Ohio region. A program titled "Advanced Energy- A New Opportunity for Business Growth" will be held at Marietta College from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 5.
TechGROWTH Ohio operates in the state's 19 southern and eastern counties. Qualifying businesses must be located in or willing to relocate to one of the counties, or substantially impact the region.