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Published: Sunday, 9/23/2007

Frozen out of funds early in program, area intensifies effort

Jeff Guy runs tests on a flat-panel display at Imaging Systems Technology Inc., a Toledo company that received state grants in 2004 and 2005 totaling nearly $800,000. Jeff Guy runs tests on a flat-panel display at Imaging Systems Technology Inc., a Toledo company that received state grants in 2004 and 2005 totaling nearly $800,000.
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IN 2002, WHEN then-Gov. Bob Taft announced his Third Frontier initiative to develop high technology in Ohio, 19 grants worth $44.3 million were awarded to universities, institutions, and businesses across the state.

Northeast Ohio received eight grants totaling $16.7 million. Central Ohio got seven worth $16.4 million. Even sparsely populated southeast Ohio got a grant worth $747,413.

Northwest Ohio got zip.

The Toledo region that year submitted just one grant request, a proposal by the University of Toledo for $4.4 million to turn genetically altered soybeans into marketable drugs or food additives.

Northwest Ohio was ill prepared to grab a piece of the financial pie, said Frank Calzonetti, UT vice president for research development.

Jeff Guy runs tests on a flat-panel display at Imaging Systems Technology Inc., a Toledo company that received state grants in 2004 and 2005 totaling nearly $800,000. Jeff Guy runs tests on a flat-panel display at Imaging Systems Technology Inc., a Toledo company that received state grants in 2004 and 2005 totaling nearly $800,000.
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"Going after these kinds of grants was not something we were quite ready for," he said. The region had yet to identify areas of excellence and had no one dedicated to writing grant proposals or organizing a large, complicated application.

That dismal situation continued for three years, with the area securing limited funds.

Of the 224 grants and $665 million awarded by the Third Frontier since 2002, northwest Ohio received just 16 grants worth $46.5 million, or 7 percent of all the money given out.

In contrast, northeast Ohio hauled in 90 grants worth $299 million, or 45 percent of the funding.

Nicolette Jaworski, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Development, said, "I think some parts of the states are just starting to wake up and say, 'Hey! We're really missing out on some of this money here. What can we do about it?'•"

The local region has secured more funding lately.

In 2006, northwest Ohio got $14 million in grants and this year nearly $23 million, of which $18 million is for a new center at UT devoted to solar energy technology.

If anyone knows how to navigate Third Frontier waters, it's Carol Wedding, president of Imaging Systems Technology Inc., a Toledo electronics firm specializing in large flat-panel display systems.

Her 10-year-old firm received grants of $623,000 in 2004 and $175,000 in 2005.

"I have applied every time there was a grant available. Out of six proposals, I got two grants," she said.

Competition is fierce, she added.

She thought she had a winner this year, but lost out.

Her downfall, she said, is that her current project has no federal funding, an important element to landing state money.

"A federal grant is very prestigious and when you go to be judged, the judges figure you already have the federal government's approval," she said.

Part of the problem locally can be traced to lack of expertise in the grant-getting game.

"You really do have to know the lay of the land," said Jim Hodges, chief financial officer at Gene Express Inc., one of three regional recipients of grants in 2003.

The Toledo biotech firm, which specializes in cancer detection, got $979,000 that "was material in helping us get off the ground," he said.

One reason his firm got its grant, the executive said, was that it is in biotech, a field that Ohio was very much looking to fund.

"I'd like to think we know how to write grants well, but at the same time, from an industry standpoint, I'd say we were just at the right place at the right time," Mr. Hodges said.

Norm Chagnon, executive director of the Third Frontier Commission, said bio-science research was considered a priority initially, in part because more than half of the first $44.3 million given out was from a tobacco-industry lawsuit settlement. With the addition of $2 billion in bonds in 2005, more types of grants are being awarded, he said.

State officials have urged all of Ohio's regions to step up their grant proposals, coaching them on how to be more competitive and showing them how to assemble government, business, and academic teams for their proposals.

Norm Johnston, chief executive of Solar Fields LLC, of Perrysburg, a firm that makes technology to mass-produce solar cells, helped land this year's photovoltaic grant.

A year earlier, he wasn't as lucky. Solar Fields sought a grant but lost out.

Russ Rogerson, executive director of the Findlay-Hancock County Community Development Foundation, said a clear-cut, easily understood presentation is almost as important as an impressive project.

In 2005, his foundation, with help from the National Composite Center in Dayton, got a $2 million Third Frontier grant to set up a tech center in Findlay primarily for Advanced Cerametrics Inc.

The New Jersey firm will move into the site next month and make a fibrous material that reduces weight, brittleness, and vibration and can be used in clothing, sports equipment, acoustic products, and medical equipment.

The program, Mr. Rogerson said, looks for "what adds the best value to the state of Ohio. The bottom line is to grow jobs for the state of Ohio and to utilize the expertise we already have here."

The Third Frontier is giving out nearly $215 million this year and $207 million next year. One-third less funding is expected in 2009.

Programs to be funded in 2008 will be revealed next month.

"It's a pretty big pie," agreed Elsa Nadler, a grant-writing expert hired by UT in August as director of grants development. Ms. Nadler has 25 years' experience at West Virginia University assisting researchers in obtaining grants.

"We will be assisting our faculty, hoping to bake a cake that rises to the top," she said.

Steve Weathers, president of the Regional Growth Partnership in Toledo, said his agency has money to hire grant writers, will help organize joint proposals, and plans to mobilize a network of entities, including the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, Toledo Regional Chambers of Commerce, and the region's universities and colleges, to go hard after Third Frontier funds this fall.

"I don't really know how it will go, but I do know that at the RGP we are going to turn the heat up and put more batters at the plate to hit the ball," he said.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.

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