Regional development center receives grant

BOWLING GREEN, O.—Bowling Green State University’s Center for Regional Development has received $800,000 in federal funding for a project to help businesses find and develop the workforces they need to succeed.

Along with its project partner, Ohio University, BGSU was among 21 universities nationally and two in Ohio to receive funding from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA); the other Ohio institution was Cleveland State. The EDA’s University Center Program is designed to enhance regional economic-development tools to expand opportunity and create jobs.

The Center for Regional Development (CRD) will create a searchable online database containing real-time information on what workers exist in specific locations and the skill sets they possess. Users will select a specific service area and occupation and the model will generate the worker density in that location. Everyone from welders to graphic designers will be included, said Dr. Michael Carroll, CRD director.

“Nothing like this currently exists,” Carroll said. “A company representative or economic development officer will be able to log onto our site and pull up a map of all the truck drivers in a particular area, for example.”

Having this information will help start-up companies make data-driven decisions on where to locate their business, and aid existing companies seeking to expand identify areas in which they might need to provide professional development, he said.

Economic developers will be able to use the information to help attract businesses to an area as well, allowing them to know exactly what is available.

“It will also help higher education institutions, especially community colleges, in all of Ohio to know what is needed in terms of curriculum in order to be more responsive to the state’s needs,” Carroll added.

The CRD will use business directories, geographic information systems software and Google maps to compile its database, which will be continually updated to provide users the most current information. While the center has a working prototype up now, Carroll said it will be a couple of years before the final version is ready.

Working on the five-year project will be Carroll; Will Burns, CRD assistant director; and Dr. Xinyue Ye, a specialist in economic geography who will create the spatial decision models.

BGSU and Ohio University have collaborated for 15 years on an EDA-supported Rural Universities Consortium, which takes a regional approach to coordinating service delivery among a variety of groups and delivering applied research to improve data-driven decision making within the economic development community. The new grant will build upon the momentum of the consortium and adapt its focus to emerging areas of need.

The center has used the geographic-information approach previously to create maps of potential parts suppliers for specific products such as wind turbines, for example, to guide entrepreneurs in site selection.

The center will be sharing news about the project at its annual State of the Region Conference next April, which it will hold twice — in northwest Ohio and again in southern Ohio.

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(Posted September 21, 2011 )