Ohio's job picture is pixilated by politics. Already, voters are exposed to campaign ads calling attention to job losses or economic recovery plans. But, beyond the politics, some small energy and technology-based Ohio companies are working to turn some bright ideas and some investment capital into paychecks for workers. WOSU's Tom Borgerding reports.
Back in the mid 1990s, Aaron Lemiuex was hiking the Appalachian trail. Even then, he says he carried a backpack full of electronic devices.
"So, aside from having a lot of time to think, I also had a heavy backpack on my back. But, I was stopping into towns to purchase batteries. After a little while I put two and two together. I had this tremendous reservoir of kinetic energy in that backpack. I just needed to come up with the technology bridge to power my electronic devices." Says Lemieux.
After working out the physics and a business plan, Lemieux started Tremont Electric. The 4 year old company manufactures what he calls a personal energy generator.
"It's a small baton-looking device that you put inside of a backpack, a briefcase, or a purse. As you walk along, it harvests your human kinetic energy so your up and down walking motion."
90% of the components to the personal energy generator are made in Ohio. Lemieux says Tremont Electric created nine jobs since January and has a current annual operating budget of $250,000. Next year, he says his operating budget will quadruple.
In Marysville, Ross Youngs also anticipates solid growth for Algae Venture Systems. The company is a spin-off from Univenture Incorporated of Columbus. In two years, Algae Ventures grew to 30 employees with an $8,000,000 annual operating budget. Youngs says Algae Venture took advantage of an energy crisis he says was sparked by the dramatic rise in oil prices between 200 and 2008.
"This crisis was caused by energy. We're going to have that crisis re-appear. Its going to create an awful lot of incentive or an awful lot of depression. We would prefer that the incentive is what we focus on and we get off of expensive non-renewable fuels."
Youngs says the company's original interest in algae was focused on plastics. But, as the company invented some algae capturing technology the focus quickly shifted to what Youngs calls water technologies.
"Our technology has the potential of making algae viable for fuels because it lowers the cost of getting algae out of the water."
Youngs says Algae Venture Systems was initially funded by its parent company, Univenture. It now has millions of dollars in contracts, including some with the U-S military. While algae technology fuels growth in Marysville, a company called Smashray, in Maumee, formed, in part, as a way to bring even a few jobs to a region in the shadows of Detroit.
"We were formed from the fall of the automotive industry."
Kari Strausbaugh is founder and Chief Executive Officer of Smashray. The 18-month old company makes a low-energy lighting device that replaces linear fluorescent lights.
"So. Basically every building that you come across has a two-by-four or two-by-two set up of fluorescent lighting and we have a unit that replaces those fixtures cutting the energy costs by anywhere from 50 to 75 percent." Says Strausbaugh.
Strausbaugh declined to reveal the company's annual operating budget. Six of the seven workers at the Maumee plant near Toledo were formerly employed in Ohio's auto industry. She anticipates hiring eight more employees by the end of the year. Strausbaugh says future growth is tempered by the current sluggishness of the overall economy.
"A few years ago if you offered a customer a project with a return on investment of two years and savings for the next twenty years it would be a no-brainer. In taday's day and age, like I said, if they don't know whether they're going to be here in a year they don't care about that two year payback."
Strausbaugh says she saw a lot of companies go out of business because that couldn't control their operating costs. She says energy efficiency is part of a fix that she hopes will lead to job growth in the future. In total, Tremont Electric, Algae Venture Systems, and Smashray currently employ 46 workers. None of those jobs existed four years ago.
Tom Borgerding WOSU News.