WARREN - Transforming the Rust Belt into the Tech Belt.
That is the goal of officials involved with the soon-to-open Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center on West Market Street in Warren. The center's doors were opened for a tour Wednesday, and the first employees likely will be hired within the next month.
The center, located in the Kresge Building across from Courthouse Square, will serve as a laboratory facility to test emerging energy sources and devices. City officials hope it will attract businesses looking to test new energy technologies at the facility.
The first employees will be hired within the next month, TBEIC board President John Pogue said. Those employees will be long-term executives in charge of interior office and laboratory layout, as well as networking with regional businesses.
TBEIC will offer energy grid simulation to test the usefulness, safety and practicality of new energy technologies. U.S. Rep Timothy J. Ryan, D-Niles, Mayor Michael O'Brien and TBEIC board members anticipate the facility being a center for economic development for years, possibly decades, to come.
"This Tech Belt Innovation Center will play an important role in the revitalization of Warren's downtown," O'Brien said.
"I am struck by the fact that Warren is constantly renewing itself. The rural past, and then we evolved ourselves into an industrial and manufacturing giant,'' O'Brien said. ''Today, it is only fitting that we evolve again into a technological future."
Ryan said energy storage and technology will be key components to the world economy, and the Mahoning Valley is establishing itself at the forefront of that industry with TBEIC.
Ted Theofrastous of NorTech, a regional nonprofit organization involved TBEIC development, said laboratory equipment offered at the facility will be unique and will help emerging energy technologies develop across the region.
Pogue hopes to have six or more businesses located in the center by this time next year, and he said the center could be a driving force in attracting a new, highly educated work force to the region.
Ryan agreed, saying the region from Cleveland to Akron to Pittsburgh could benefit from the facility.
Ryan played a role in securing more than $2 million for building development from the state. That money, combined with $500,000 from the state and an expected $700,000 local share will fund building development and initial infrastructure.
"At that point, we could operate and begin to sustain operation," Theofrastous said, adding that another $2 million to $4 million in "hardcore laboratory structure" would be needed to fully develop the facility. After the laboratory is developed, the center will be a place to show research and develop new products.
"Bio fuels, advanced materials, fuel cells, electric vehicles or wind and solar, that research and development will be conducted at this site," O'Brien said.
David P. Karpinski, director of NorTech, expects economic development throughout the region, and especially in the Mahoning Valley.
The building offers 37,000 square feet and is divided into three sections. A street-front section would give possible tenants a business front. An upper level section would serve as office suites for executives and employees, and a separated lower level would house the laboratory.
"This combination of usable space is very rare," Theofrastous said.
Youngstown State University will work with the center with research and possibly work force training and placement. In total, the officials present said TBEIC could function as an economic engine in Warren for decades to come.
"(These are) building blocks to an ever brighter future for the city of Warren," O'Brien said. "It is our children and our grandchildren who will benefit from the decisions that we are making in 2011."