IRONTON — Ohio University and the Southern Campus are working with other economic development groups to determine the feasibility of a new center for entrepreneurship in Lawrence County. The University updated area partners on a new feasibility study by Axcel Innovation during a recent meeting with regional leaders.

Among options for serving business needs include discussion of the establishment of a manufacturing incubator at The Point Industrial Park in South Point. Another second possibility might involve a hybrid workspace in Ironton, focusing on retail as an option, with co-working space, meeting and training rooms, event space and more. If these options were selected, they could operate under a shared management system as a business service organization. A third option would be to do nothing and work under existing programs that provide limited services for entrepreneurs.

Nicole Pennington, dean of Ohio Southern, said a strategic approach to economic development will enhance resources available to area businesses.

“Since March 2018, Ohio Southern’s Workforce Success efforts have provided custom training to small and emerging businesses and we expect the demand for services to continue,” Pennington said. “Collaboration will be key to successful strategies moving forward,” she said. Jennifer Simon, executive director of Regional Innovation for Ohio University, said entrepreneurship provides economic diversity in a community where “small businesses create more jobs over the long term and more readily reflect a community’s character.” But, Simon said the community must decide how to grow the economy. “Any work on developing a business incubation model must be driven by the community’s wants and the demand for such a facility,” Simon continued. “Our LIGHTS Regional Innovation Network could provide assistance in deploying a solution that meets the needs of the area’s residents,” she said. Currently, LIGHTS works with 10 other organizations across a 28-county area.

Representatives reviewing the feasibility study included: Jennifer Simon, Ariana Ulloa-Olavarrieta and Nathaniel Berger - LIGHTS Regional Innovation Network; Mayor Katrina Keith, Ironton; Sarah Diamond Burroway, Ohio University Southern Workforce Success; Bill Dingus and Mike Thompson, LEDC; Ralph Kline, Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Agency; Ryan Mapes, Ohio State University South Centers Endeavor Center; and Bill Woodrum, Robert C. Byrd Institute at Marshall University.

The group plans to expand to include other stakeholders to explore the possibilities and look at ways to more effectively use existing community assets. The group discussed starting slowly to test concepts that fit Lawrence County and the larger Tri-State region. Simon said additional data is being developed by participants and existing data is being shared to establish a business plan around the potential new program. The group expects to meet again in January to determine next steps.

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