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Riding Mason’s Tech Elevator

The city of Mason takes measured risks with its Tech Elevator program to lift startups and expanding companies.

by Alexandra Frost

Local startups and expanding businesses typically know where to turn when they’re ready to level up: Over-the-Rhine, Covington, and the area around the University of Cincinnati are among the most attractive spots for fresh talent to congregate. Mason is positioning itself to give these go-to spots some competition, attracting international companies to a population boom town that can be overlooked as a business epicenter.

Unlike private or higher education backers in the urban core, Mason city leaders themselves are stepping out to help interested businesses find space and connections for growth and expansion. Michele Blair, the city’s director of economic development, works with public and private sector entrepreneurs through Mason’s Tech Elevator to help make the area more of a go-to business location.

Mason’s population has grown 12 percent since 2010, Blair says, and more than 800 businesses now operate within its 19 square miles. The Tech Elevator spreads over three campuses and has hosted at least 20 startups with more than 500 new jobs, including Genetesis and ConnXus. The city is also focusing on developing medical and science innovation through its “BioHub” at Oak Park along I-71, which strives to create collaboration initiatives for research and discovery. “We want to attract bio, biohealth, IT, and technology-related companies and underwrite a space that allows them to innovate,” says Blair.

The recruitment effort started with Assurex, a genetic testing and informatics company that uses technology originating from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic, commercialized with funding from CincyTech. Without the Tech Elevator, Blair says, Mason wouldn’t have been able to help. “It allowed us to attract some investment and job creation that wasn’t meant necessarily for long-term operations but rather for quickly scaling the company,” she says. “We started looking at How can we help you build a lab? and How can we support you in small ways in conjunction with CincyTech?

One result of the collaboration was that Mason and Assurex formed a partnership to build a new lab in a 10,000-square-foot space on the city’s municipal campus. The company’s current success partially stems from its early start in the medical genomic and informatics space and its subsequent rapid growth, which led to Assurex being acquired in 2016 by a well-respected genetics company, Myriad Neuroscience. The Salt Lake City-based parent company is now expanding the Mason lab for the fourth time, Blair says.

“What we learned as a city partnering with an aggressive startup is how bad government entities usually are at taking risks,” she says. “But as a unique and creative city, we’ve learned to take measured risks, and now we’re seeing those measured risks pay off.”