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Published: Wednesday, 6/25/2008

Lucas County backs training program, Rocket Ventures

BY ALEX M. PARKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

After battling for a week over how to spend the county's spare economic development dollars, Lucas County commissioners approved two measures aimed at creating jobs.

The commissioners OK'd a measure from Tina Skeldon Wozniak, the commission's president, to give $10,000 to Assets Toledo for a job training program, as well as a proposal from Commissioner Pete Gerken to give $125,000 to the state-funded venture capital firm Rocket Ventures.

The two expenditures leave about $215,000 in the county's economic development fund, derived by selling land to the Toledo Area Metroparks.

Last week, commissioners voted down a proposal from Commissioner Ben Konop to use the money to create 40 part-time positions with local nonprofits.

The $10,000 for Assets Toledo would go towards a training program for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Assets Toledo is a nonprofit, faith-based program that focuses on helping those hoping to start their own business.

Ms. Wozniak said hundreds of people are on the waiting list to get into the classes.

She said the donation would help leverage state funds to train entrepreneurs in the community, in turn creating jobs.

"I think we can make a lot of hay out of this $10,000," Ms. Wozniak said.

The $125,000 donation to Rocket Ventures will be funneled through the Lucas County Improvement Corporation, the county's economic development arm, which had pledged to help fund the venture capital firm two years ago.

The firm was created in 2006 by the Regional Growth Partnership, a nonprofit organization funded by private contributors, which acts as an economic development agency for the region.

The firm has received about $15 million from the state's Third Frontier program, and about $7.5 million from local contributors - both private companies and local governments.

As a venture capital firm, Rocket Ventures gives "pre-seed" money to local businesses, in exchange for a share in their profits.

Bob Savage, the fund manager, said once the companies are off the ground, all the investors will get their money back and a share of the profits, while the state's portion will go into another local investment fund.

An investment advisory committee, appointed by the various investors, will decide who gets the money, Mr. Savage said.

Mr. Gerken claimed the money was an investment in high-tech jobs for the county.

"This really leverages dollars two, three times over," Mr. Gerken said.

The resolution passed 2-0, with Mr. Konop abstaining.

Mr. Konop said he wanted more time to review the proposal - specifically, how the recipients would be chosen, and how much of the money would go out of state.

"It's an unusual question, whether a governmental entity should be purchasing for-profit shares in a venture capital fund," Mr. Konop said. "I think the idea of Rocket Ventures is a good one, I just don't know if it's what you should invest public money in. It might work out, it might not, but I wasn't prepared to vote for it."

Contact Alex M. Parker at:

aparker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6107.



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