Westerville could have a new partner in job creation: TechColumbus.

Westerville could have a new partner in job creation: TechColumbus.

Westerville City Council heard the first reading of legislation April 19 that would provide $100,000 this year to join in TechColumbus' Entrepreneurial Signature Program.

Under that program, TechColumbus would place a staff member in Westerville two days a week to work on establishing networking programs for potential entrepreneurs, creating entrepreneurial workshops on a monthly basis and in dentifying prospective entrepreneurs and potential start-up businesses, as well as potential investors for them, Westerville economic development administrator Jason Bechtold said.

That person also would meet with existing Westerville companies that are in the developmental stages or that are looking at spin-off projects, and would help to look for other sources of funding for the city's proposed business incubator, Bechtold said.

If approved, the measure would be Westerville's first step toward establishing a business incubator, which would cost the city an estimated $1.1 million to develop, plus an additional $525,000 over two years to start, consultant Carol Lauffer told council during a work session in March.

Westerville's incubator, as outlined by Lauffer at the March work session, would be a 15,000- to 22,000-square-foot facility with lab space and offices that would serve 15 to 25 companies housed within the incubator space and five to 10 businesses located elsewhere.

The incubator businesses would have four to five people who would work through the program, graduating after 18 months or two years, Lauffer said, with the incubator working to grow those businesses grow to between 20 and 25 employees.

TechColumbus, which also has worked with city staff on developing the business-incubator concept, has helped to start business incubators elsewhere in central Ohio.

In November, the city made a two-year, $200,000 commitment to partner with TechColumbus, Bechtold said. The first $100,000 is what is before council now; the additional $100,000 would be due early in 2012.

Council members said they would like to see more data supporting business incubators' success in creating jobs before they choose to commit money to the venture.

"I just need a justification of the $100,000 because, in terms of staffing, what we get out of that is one employee, twice a week," Councilman Craig Treneff said. "There's got to be some additional value added in this other than an employee to show up twice a week."

Treneff said he would like to see some numbers showing TechColumbus' success in creating jobs, such as seeing companies that TechColumbus has helped start.

"I need some concrete sense of TechColumbus' successes. Does this really work?" Treneff said. "We certainly have had a lot of businesses develop in Westerville; to my knowledge, none of them have come out of an incubator."

Council chairman Mike Heyeck said the agreement does come with a termination clause but stipulates that money in 2012 would be allocated in January. He asked the law department to look at extending that to give next year's council more time to evaluate whether to back the partnership for a second year.

"We need to make sure we don't tie the hands of future council," Heyeck said.

He applauded the city staff's work on the incubator concept but said that he, too, would like to see more proof of TechColumbus' return on investment before moving forward.

"Attracting jobs is very important to us," he said.