Start-ups seek brains and cash

Local officials say the state can help foster high-tech businesses by cutting taxes and fixing education.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A local entrepreneur who hopes his company will be the next Microsoft had a simple message for state officials who came to Youngstown.
"Get out of our way," said Jim Thompson, vice president of SofTek Software International in downtown Youngstown.
Thompson was one of several speakers who hammered home a consistent message at a meeting Friday with the state's High Tech Start-Up Commission at Youngstown State University.
Speakers said high-tech businesses don't need much help from the state, other than reducing tax rates and improving education.
"We're always looking for brains and cash," Thompson said.
The commission has been traveling the state as it works on developing a plan for boosting high-tech businesses. It is to report to state lawmakers by March 1.
Reid Dulberger, senior vice president of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce, said local officials wanted the commission to visit Youngstown, and not just Ohio's larger cities, so it could share in job-creation efforts.
"There is vibrant technology, growing technology, here in the Valley," he said.
Software company: Thompson spoke to the commission as an example of that. His company develops software that tracks inventory for lawn and garden retailers and power sports retailers, such as motorcycle and jet ski dealers.
Among its clients are Briggs & amp; Stratton, the largest maker of small engines, which selected the company's software for its first retail lawn and garden dealership in North Carolina.
Softek also develops software that helps engineers and those testing equipment to communicate better. That software is being used by E-Z-Go, a maker of golf carts.
The company has grown from five employees in April 2000 to 17 today, but Thompson said he wants to have an initial public offering of stock and someday be as big as Microsoft, or bigger.
"I want hyper-growth. I want to explode. I want to be on Wall Street," he said.
Help for incubator: SofTek and 11 other technology companies operate in the Youngstown Business Incubator, which needs better funding from the state, several speakers said. The incubator receives about $194,000 a year from the state.
Luke Thompson, a member of the family that ran the former Stambaugh-Thompson Co. and who now is looking to invest in start-up technology companies, said incubator companies had 89 employees, sales of $3.9 million and a payroll of $2.4 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
"All of this success comes at a very small price tag for the state," he said.
Taxes, education: For the most part, however, speakers wanted better tax deals for investors and the companies themselves. For example, the Technology Investment Tax Credit allows investors to deduct up to 25 percent of an investment of up to $100,000. Thompson suggested that be raised to $500,000.
Ralph Zerbonia, general manager of Cboss Community Network in Boardman, said government can't do much for businesses other than offer tax incentives and low-interest loans for expanding companies. The focus of the Legislature should be improving the state's education system.
"Tech companies have two raw materials, brains and money. Money is an available commodity. The critical component in high-tech business, naturally enough, is brains," he said.