Miami, city of Oxford receive JobsOhio Vibrant Community Grant for visionary College@Elm project

By Jessica Rivinius, university news and communications

college at elm building

The College@Elm building (image by Scott Kissell).

Miami University and the city of Oxford will receive $1.5 million in assistance from a JobsOhio Vibrant Community grant for a startup initiative that will create more than 50 Ohio jobs, bolster a distressed rural economy, and attract new businesses to Oxford.

The College@Elm Innovation and Workforce Development Center at 20 S. Elm St. will advance ideas, inventions, and innovations with real economic value in the marketplace. It will serve as a catalyst for economic growth with the infusion of 20,000-plus Miami students, faculty, and staff into the local and southwest Ohio entrepreneurial ecosystems.

The 39,000-square-foot facility will house office space, an entrepreneurship center, startups, a workforce and small business development resource center, a design and testing area, and space for manufacturing operations. 

College@Elm will have three anchor tenants:

  • Miami, operating an Entrepreneurship Center and providing entrepreneurial support functions.
  • The Fischer Group, a Butler County manufacturing company, operating a business “innovation extension.”
  • The city of Oxford, operating a workforce development and small business resource center.

In addition to the $1.5 million Vibrant Communities award, the initiative received a $1 million jumpstart in funding earlier this year from Ohio’s 2021-2022 state capital budget. The university has raised an additional $2 million. Total cost for the renovation project is $10.7 million.

“Ohio continues to experience momentum as it emerges strong from the pandemic. The JobsOhio Vibrant Community Grant Program invests in important, transformative projects to ensure under-represented population groups and distressed communities fully participate in the economic recovery,” JobsOhio president and CEO J.P. Nauseef said. “Oxford will realize this goal, serving as an example of how developing public-private partnerships can spur job creation and revitalization of our beloved downtowns.”

Collaborative group of public and private partners

REDI Cincinnati, a private nonprofit economic development corporation, was instrumental in assisting Miami and the city of Oxford with its successful application to the JobsOhio Vibrant Community Program.

“The College@Elm project is the perfect fit for the mission of JobsOhio’s Vibrant Community program to catalyze strategic areas in Ohio communities, and I’m grateful that we are able to support this exciting project,” said Kimm Lauterbach, REDI Cincinnati president and CEO. “JobsOhio’s vision to leverage support from a collaborative group of public and private partners will be an incredible asset to Miami University, the city of Oxford, and The Fischer Group’s strategy for long-term growth. The activation of vacant buildings to further community development, business growth, and entrepreneurship is the new formula for success in economic development, and I’m proud to see it come to fruition in the Cincinnati region.”

The JobsOhio Vibrant Communities program aims to assist distressed communities’ efforts to implement catalytic development projects that fulfill a market need and represents a significant reinvestment in areas that have struggled to attract new investment. The program was first announced at JobsOhio’s public board meeting earlier this month.

“We are thrilled that JobsOhio Vibrant Community program and REDI Cincinnati recognize the tremendous value of College@Elm and have been willing to invest in its potential to elevate our community, the surrounding area, and Ohio.” Miami President Gregory Crawford said. “College@Elm will demonstrate the value of infusing young people into the local entrepreneurial ecosystems while also providing a template for how rural communities like Oxford can replicate this to advance their local economies.” 

Transforming Uptown Oxford

inside the college at elm building with randi thomas and greg crawford

Seth Cropenbaker, assistant to the Oxford city manager, stands with Miami President Gregory Crawford (center) and Miami's Randi Thomas inside the building.

The funding from the Vibrant Community program supports the transformation of the vacant Miami-owned building into a hub of art and science, creativity and innovation, imagination, and design.

College@Elm will leverage existing entrepreneurial activities housed in the nearby Oxford Community Arts Center to revitalize an undeveloped three-block area of uptown Oxford into a high-tech Innovation Corridor.

“The city of Oxford is excited to partner with Miami University on the redevelopment of the College@Elm,” said Jessica Greene, assistant Oxford city manager. “We know that by working together we can lead workforce development in the region and attract new businesses and create jobs in Ohio.”

The catalytic impact from the JobsOhio investment in the project is a local payroll of nearly $4 million and 79 jobs. Over a five-year period, The Fischer Group will create 51 of those new jobs with a payroll of $2 million. With more than a decade of experience in product development, machine building, unique printing and manufacturing, The Fischer Group’s College@Elm innovation extension will be its third Butler County location.

Al Fischer, president and CEO of The Fisher Group, said they are excited to operate a manufacturing innovation extension program at College@Elm.

"We basically invented the technology that de-risks and brings new products into the market at about a fifth of the time and at a quarter of the cost of what large companies do,” he said. 

Expanding business opportunities

In addition to light manufacturing, College@Elm aims to develop new businesses and expand business opportunities by:

  • Cultivating innovation with a “pull” approach that collaboratively develops business start-ups and expansions utilizing existing company technology or products.
  • Intentionally connecting economic development agencies and entrepreneurs in the regional startup ecosystem with student, faculty, and alumni talent.
  • Embedding inclusive innovation throughout the innovation and business development process.

Once established, Miami anticipates that College@Elm will launch three startups a year.

“College@Elm will be the lighthouse, the beacon, for students and community members, regardless of their educational attainment, who have an idea and would like to get assistance on how to develop that idea further and make it a viable business entity,” said Randi Malcolm Thomas, Esq., (Miami ’88 and MA ’90), vice president of ASPIRE (Advancing Strategy, Partnerships, Institutional Relations, and Economy) at Miami.