YBI Gets $475K Grant to Fund Tech Block 5 Renovations

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A $475,000 state grant will allow the Youngstown Business incubator to fund the final phase of renovations to Tech Block Building No. 5.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced the funds from JobsOhio’s Vibrant Community Program during a media event at the 29 Vindicator Square building, which formerly housed The Vindicator Printing Co. YBI purchased the building in 2015 and opened the partially renovated space in December 2017.

In June 2021, YBI received $1.9 million from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to help pay for renovations to the remaining 19,000 square feet of leasable space in the building.

The state grant program “was designed specifically to close the financing gap for transformation development projects like this, and we do think this is a transformational project,” DeWine said. The building already is home to 10 tenants and the additional space will be able to accommodate up to five more to continue the building’s “positive momentum,” he said.

During his remarks, the governor alluded to last Friday’s groundbreaking for Intel’s $20 billion semiconductor manufacturing plant in Licking County. He recalled telling the state’s development team, when Ohio was competing with 39 other sites nationwide for the project, that succeeding would be important for the direct and indirect jobs the project would bring to Ohio.

“It will send a signal to businesses of all kinds across this country that there’s something special going on in Ohio,” he said. “And there is something special going on in Ohio. There is something special going on the Mahoning Valley.”

The governor was among several state and local leaders who offered remarks at the event.

“What you’re witnessing is revitalization and collaboration at its finest,” said J.P. Nauseef, CEO of JobsOhio, the state’s private nonprofit economic development corporation.

Among the beneficiaries of the renovation will be JuggerBot 3D, a manufacturer of industrial-grade 3D printing equipment, which now occupies a 3,600-square-foot space in the building. Last year, JuggerBot received a $25,000 Inclusion grant from JobsOhio to support its growth

“We’re excited for these next steps,” said Zac DiVencenzo, JuggerBot co-founder. The company, which originally occupied a 300-square-foot office in one YBI building and now has 3,600 square-feet in TBB5, will move to a 9,000-square-foot space once the renovation is complete.

Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel said DiVencenzo and JuggerBot co-founder Dan Fernbeck are “making a difference” at YBI.

“We’re only as good as our youth and we’re fortunate to have some great youth,” Tressel said.

“We knew that we wanted to design and innovate and manufacture like our parents and grandparents did before us. We knew that we wanted to stay in Youngstown. We wanted to contribute to this community and be part of that ecosystem,” DiVencenzo said.

YBI initially rejected JuggerBot as a tenant when the partners pitched the incubator after they graduated from college in 2014. At the time, DiVencenzo acknowledged, YBI didn’t have the space or resources to accommodate the startup.

According to Barb Ewing, incubator CEO, the JuggerBot founders provided YBI with the impetus for developing Tech Block Building 5.

“They were soldiering in our 100-year-old wooden building across the street and we kept smelling smoke rolling out of it,” she recalled. “We knew that sooner or later they were going to burn the place down.”

People often are confused about what YBI does, Ewing said. The incubator portfolio includes advanced manufacturing, working with startups, software development, operating a state minority business assistance center and building a youth entrepreneurship program.

“We are not a cookie-cutter economic development organization,” she said. “We’re complicated, we’re diverse and we are determined to change the narrative around Youngstown. But none of these things can happen without the support of our business community and government leaders.”

Tuesday’s announcement represented “only part of the momentum” taking place in Youngstown, said Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

Other examples he cited included Penguin City Brewing Co.’s repurposing of an industrial building near downtown “to something we’re all very proud of,” investments in Valley Foods Inc. and Trivium Packaging, renovation of the 20 Federal Place Building, which is funded in part by a nearly $7 million state brownfield grant, and the ongoing $27.65 million rehabilitation and upgrade of several downtown roads.

Mayor Jamael Tito Brown thanked John Miles, president and CEO of Steelite International, for his vision. In June, Miles announced his company, a global supplier of tableware to the hospitality industry, would move its corporate headquarters from New Castle, Pa., to YBI’s Taft Technology Center building and the adjoining Semple Building, bringing approximately 70 jobs to the city.

Steelite signed its lease for the space in late August and the lease went into effect Sept. 1, Ewing said.

“YBI’s entire team sold us on the building almost instantly,” Miles said. He credited Brown, City Council, JobsOhio, Team NEO and DeWine for “working really, really hard to get us here,” overcoming several obstacles.

To incentivize Steelite’s move, Youngstown officials negotiated and approved a grant estimated at $415,000, based on the estimated value of the payroll tax generated by the new jobs. JobsOhio also is finalizing a $400,000 grant for the company.

“Every deal is customized to the opportunity,” Nauseef said.

Basia Adamczak, 7th Ward councilwoman, acknowledged that traversing downtown can be “a little bit frustrating” but it shows things are getting done and progress is being made in the city.

“All of this progress is being done because we have all been working together,” she said. “It’s so important to have a climate that is conducive to welcoming business and continuing economic development.”

Ewing said she hopes to have the new space ready for tenants by the first of the year, a timetable that “might be a little aggressive.” But the space will be ready by sometime during the first quarter of 2023 “for sure,” she assured. The space to be renovated already has undergone demolition. Walls need to be constructed and heating/ventilation/air conditioning systems and electrical lines need to be installed.

“We also have to repair the freight elevator, the roof and the historic brick on the outside,” she said.

Discussions are underway with potential tenants, including a company from Great Britain.

“But we’d also like to continue to generate our own homegrown companies,” Ewing said.

From left: Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel and Gov. Mike DeWine.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.