Determining the Impact   1


      Determining the Impact of a Business Incubator on Regional Economic Growth

                                 Thomas B. Glennan

                          Lawrence Technological University
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The southeastern region of Michigan has exhibited significantly slower economic recovery and

growth than what is generally being experienced by the rest of the United States. This study will

investigate the impact that business incubators have on the economic well-being of a region or

community. The subject population would be the Southeast Michigan business community, with

the sample consisting of both public and private business incubators operating within this area.

The instrument for collecting data would consist of open-ended interviews with representatives

from selected business incubators, and the small businesses and venture capitalists who have

used their services. The key result will be the identification of those factors which enable

business incubators to positively impact the region‟s economic growth.
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         Determining the Impact of a Business Incubator on Regional Economic Growth

       The economic recovery and prosperity that has recently occurred throughout most

regions of the United States has been noticeably absent from the southeastern communities of the

State of Michigan. This situation is the underlying problem that drives the need for research

studies and investigations into potential solutions to Southeast Michigan‟s economic malaise.

Considerable data and empirical evidence of Michigan‟s lagging economic performance have

been documented and published in numerous newspapers, magazines, and journals. These

reports and stories paint a picture of entrepreneurs and business communities that recognize their

plight and are desperately trying to identify both the causes and solutions to their current

predicament. Henderson (2006, October) reports on the poor performance of Michigan stocks in

general, and Southeast Michigan stocks in particular, as an indicator of how broadly the

economic downturn has affected the area. For example, “…79 area companies lost an average of

about 2 percent of their value, while the Standard & Poor‟s 500 were up about 4 and the Dow

Jones were up about 7 percent.” Furthermore, Michigan‟s high proportions of consumer

discretionary companies, as well as small and mid-cap stocks, none of which have performed

well as a whole, add to the problem. But an obvious focus of the region‟s poor economic

situation is the domestic automobile manufacturing industry, otherwise known as the “Big

Three”. Between 1995 and 2004, their share of the U.S. market declined from 73% to 58%, a

drop that also impacted the fortunes of automotive suppliers in southeastern Michigan and

elsewhere (Kosdrosky, 2004). This in turn led to reductions in employment levels, income

growth, and retail spending in those communities by the employees of those companies, which

resulted in the inability of the region to participate in the economic recovery enjoyed by the rest

of the country. David Cole, of the Center for Automotive research, has found that the cyclical
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downturns of the past have been replaced with structural changes that are harder to overcome

(Kosdrosky). With Detroit automakers having a much smaller share of the market, any cyclical

increases in volume are no longer sufficient to raise the prosperity of the region, given the

smaller market share that they are starting from and their reduced profitability. And the increased

emphasis on reduced costs and increased efficiency by the automakers and their suppliers means

that increases in volume may no longer translate into increases in worker paychecks. In addition

to efficiency gains cutting the need for overtime from past levels, the number of workers needed

to address volume increases is reduced. According to Wes Smith, President of E&E

Manufacturing, a metal stamping company, “Before, for every $90,000 of value added (new

business minus costs), you hired a person, but now it takes $150,000 of value added before you

can hire that person, because of the efficiency increases.” (Kosdrosky). Finally, increased health

care costs for an older average-work force add an additional burden to domestic automakers, and

projections showing a regional increase of more than 307,000 people over the age of 65 by 2020,

which will result in a huge increase in the need for health care services by that segment of the

population (Detroiter, 2006). It appears to be obvious, based on this review of existing literature,

that Southeast Michigan‟s economic recovery cannot rely on a resurgence by the “Big Three” as

in the past, and new economic and business models for the region may be required as well.

       One strategy for improving the economic growth of Southeast Michigan has been to lure

new businesses and entrepreneurs, as well as venture capitalists, to the area. Such an approach

could leverage the resident engineering expertise, which is one of the remaining strengths of the

region. “There‟s so much engineering talent, even with the globalization of the industry, that the

eastern side of Michigan is still the intellectual capital of the auto industry” according to Neil De

Koker, president of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (Kosdrosky, 2004). The trick,
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however, would be to apply that expertise to other industries and technologies. For example,

many experts consider Southeast Michigan to be a prime candidate location for further

development and commercialization of technologies relating to advanced batteries, cellulosic

biofuels, and solar energy production, which could require skills learned in the auto industry.

Rodrigo Pridencio, a partner with Nth Power, a San Francisco venture capital firm, states that

“We think the combination for investors looking for new opportunities – California being a bit

crowded and entrepreneurs in Michigan looking for new challenges using their talents – could be

the driver for some successful companies in Michigan.” (Bodipo-Memba, 2007).

       Another approach that has been taken is to pursue industries totally unrelated to the

automotive business, such as the life sciences and biotechnology. Such a strategy might not only

succeed in bringing in new business, but again allow the region to leverage existing pools of

skilled workers and facilities. Although the Ann Arbor area was shocked in early 2007 by

Pfizer‟s decision to close its research facility there, the city could do well to learn and profit from

a nearly identical situation that Skokie, Illinois experienced four years ago. Although the move

eliminated 1400 jobs and proved to be a significant economic hit to the community, local efforts

resulted in finding a developer who converted the building into the Illinois Science and

Technology Park, which created 3250 jobs. Some think that such a redevelopment, especially if a

use for the existing specialized, high-tech wet labs could be found, could enable Ann Arbor to

rebound in a similar manner. Other efforts by Michigan based companies and entrepreneurs to

build a life sciences industry in the state, however, have run into difficulties. Although many

current facilities and research institutions, such as William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak and

many of Michigan‟s public universities, have resources and facilities to enable such a strategy,

past initiatives have proven unsuccessful, due primarily to the lack of a coordinated effort.
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Randal Charlton, the chairman of Ann Arbor-based MichBio, a trade association, says that

Michigan‟s life sciences entrepreneurs and scientists should be working together with

government and universities to provide information regarding tax incentives, the state‟s 15

public universities, our talented work force, and all the other advantages of starting a company in

Michigan. Instead, the groups are lacking in coordination, which limits the extent to which life

sciences can, or want, to grow in Michigan. “Right now,” he says, “we have all of these little

dots all over the state. We need to connect the dots.” (Dietderich, 2006). This lack of

coordination, and other deficiencies, is hurting Michigan‟s prospects to the point that in a study

by the Milken Institute, a California-based think tank, of the major areas of biotech and life

sciences research in the U.S., no Michigan companies were even mentioned. And an additional

study released by Western Michigan University and Lansing-based Epic-MRA found that “only

28% of respondents were confident that the state can become a leader in life sciences.”

(Dietderich). As with the automotive manufacturing industry observations made earlier, it

appears that any role by Michigan in new or untapped industries such as the life sciences and

biotech is going to require the judicious use of approaches, tools, and strategies that are proven to

be effective for resolving and correcting the lack of economic growth that Southeast Michigan is


                                Purpose Statement and Research Question

       One potential approach found in the research literature for this proposed study would be

to drive economic growth by increasing the creation and use of business incubators, which are

private or public assistance programs that serve to facilitate the commercialization of new

technologies and the growth of business ventures (Beech, 1999). Although considerable

information has been written about business incubators (Hillstrom and Collier, 2002), many
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entrepreneurs, technologists, and business owners are not familiar with them or the services they

have to offer to the business and research communities. It also appears that business incubators

can be quite different from one another, with respect to the sponsoring organization, available

resources, business philosophy, location, and so forth (Mueckenheim, 2002). The purpose of this

case study, therefore, will be to understand and describe the function served by business

incubators and the value that they provide to their clients and customers. Within the context of

this qualitative study, the function and value of business incubators will be defined to include

their mode of organization and operation, the services and resources that they provide, and their

subsequent effect on the business community and environment. The method of inquiry will

involve representatives of existing business incubators, as well as their customers and clients.

Instruments and methods that permit the gathering of data and observations within their

respective operating environments will be used, and consultations with recognized experts

having familiarity with business incubators will ensure the external validity of conclusions and

recommendations made. As such, this study will not include any quantitative research or data

collection, such as the comparing of factors or establishing of relationships between two or more

variables in search of cause-and-effect relationships. The need for such a subsequent study,

however, may well result from the increased understanding of the function and value of business


       While my literature search revealed many articles documenting the use of business

incubators to successfully develop and commercialize emerging technologies, or assist with the

creation of a new business enterprise (Jarema, 2006; Morrison, 2006; Nax, 2006; Pare, 2006), I

also found evidence that not all such relationships with business incubators have worked as

intended (Hillstrom and Collier, 2002)). Furthermore, literature does exist that addresses the
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issue of what factors or conditions enable a business incubator to contribute to economic growth

(Steffens, 1992), but it appears to be dated and does not reflect many of the services,

technologies, and resources available today. This leads me to the conclusion that additional

research is needed to understand business incubators as they exist today, and their contributions

to the commercialization of new technologies and research, support for business start-ups, and

the subsequent effect on a regions economic growth. Specifically, these issues and observations

have led me to the following research question, which will be the focus of this study: What are

the factors and characteristics of a business incubator that enable it to positively impact the

economic conditions of a region?

       Before proceeding further, it is appropriate to discuss the delimitations which I have

defined for this study, which were used to narrow the focus of the proposed investigation. These

limitations include:

       1.         This study will focus on those factors and characteristics that benefit or

                  contribute to (“positively impact”) the economic growth of a region. It will not

                  be concerned with identifying factors and characteristics that have a negative


       2.         This study will be limited to business incubators currently in existence in the

                  Southeast Michigan region. It will not be concerned with factors that may apply

                  to business incubators outside of this region.

       3.         This study will be a cross-sectional study that takes place at a single point in

                  time, rather than a longitudinal study that would occur over an extended period

                  of time.
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       The limitations that I have identified for this study, which are used to identify potential

study weaknesses, would include the following:

       1.         Since I have chosen to include both private and public business incubators in

                  my study, differences regarding the services and resources available from each

                  of those types of incubator may affect their performance relative to one another.

       2.         Although my intent is to consult with a recognized business incubator subject

                  matter expert, thereby increasing the confirmability of my results, my lack of

                  an entrepreneurial or business background may bias my analysis and

                  interpretation of the data.

       3.         Although the credibility of my qualitative research will be enhanced by my

                  intent to share the results with the study participants upon its conclusion, the

                  relatively small number of business incubators in the final sample may limit the

                  degree of that credibility. This limitation could be addressed by increasing the

                  sample size.


       Since this study will be exploratory in nature and seeks to better understand an existing

process or phenomenon in a natural setting, I feel that a qualitative approach using the case study

method is appropriate for this research subject. The data to be collected will be more text and

image-oriented, rather than numerical and statistical, and I plan to use strategies that involve

open-ended observations, interviews, and the collection of documents. I also feel that the purpose

statement and research questions may evolve somewhat as the study progresses, which is

consistent with the qualitative approach, although I am confident that the main intent of the study

will remain unchanged.
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       A series of interviews will be conducted for the purpose of identifying those factors of a

business incubator which should be assessed for their contribution to the economic growth of the

region. The instrument of data collection chosen for this survey is the open-ended personal

interview. It was selected because it provides the interviewer with the opportunity to ask follow-

up and detailed questions which may be appropriate and desirable in an exploratory study such

as this. Interviews are often easier for, and result in more commitment by, the respondent to

participate, which should increase the overall respondent participation level (Marshall and

Rossman, 1999). The appropriate use of telephone interviews will also be considered, to again

increase the level of participation and the ability to gather data quickly. Finally, because the

interviewer is such an integral part of the instrument, training will be required to avoid

interviewer bias, distortion, and subversion and address all possible contingencies.

       The population is defined to include those governmental, business, and educational

institutions identified and operating as business incubators, and the sample drawn from that

population will consist of those business incubators that are located in the Southeast Michigan

area. These business incubators will be represented by their respective directors or other primary

executives or administrators for the purposes of participating in the interviews, which means that

a single-stage sampling procedure, in which the researcher has access to the names of the

individuals in the sample and can access them directly, will be used. This also leads to the

decision to use non-probabilistic sampling methods for the purposes of this survey, which is the

result of the small sample size, and results in increased convenience and availability in

conducting the survey. Since (a) the sample is so small in size, (b) it is not a random sample, and

(c) the intent is to involve all of the sample members, stratification of the sample will not be a

characteristic of this sample. The number of people making up the sample will be determined by
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the number of qualifying business incubators in the Southeast Michigan region, with each

incubator being represented by one qualified participant.

        At this point, the survey method is not intended to be a specific, unique instrument, but

rather a typical personal interview consisting of questions to be determined by the researcher.

Therefore, there is no pre-existing data available for use in determining the validity or reliability

of the survey instrument itself. To address the issue of validity, other individuals (one from each

of the business incubators within the sample) will be asked to review the questions, format and

content of the questionnaire to be used in the interview. This field test employing different

participants from the same sample that will participate in the survey will serve as validation of

the tool.

        The independent variables to be evaluated for their contribution to economic growth will

be a consequence and result of the interviews to be conducted. Anticipated independent variables

might include infrastructure, educational system, labor pool skill set, weather conditions,

political climate and financial resources. The dependent variable to be assessed is the resulting

economic growth of the Southeast Michigan region.

                        Significance of the Study and Expected Outcomes

        Much of the literature found while researching this topic alluded to the efforts of

governments, universities, venture capitalists, and others to identify strategies and tools for

improving the economic conditions in Southeast Michigan. I found many references to plans or

recent initiatives to utilize the resources and services of available business incubators (Shamus,

2007; Morath, 2007; Shirouzu, 2007; Morrison, 2006). However, the experiences of others

indicates that, while business incubators may have a place in facilitating the commercialization

of emerging technologies and establishing networks of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists,
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finding and using a business incubator is no guarantee of success. To avoid future

disappointments and wasted resources and time, it is imperative that we provide the businesses

and entrepreneurs of Southeast Michigan with the best tools available to succeed. A critical part

of that effort will be for the business, governmental, and educational leaders of Michigan to

identify those factors and characteristics of the business incubator, which will enable that tool to

contribute as much as possible to the success of new and promising industries and businesses.

Only then will we have optimized our efforts to define and implement a successful strategy fir

growing Southeast Michigan‟s economic growth. This proposed study, and the lessons and

recommendations that will come from it, will play a key role in the implementation of that

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Ahlin, E. (2007, March 31). Café feeds need for business incubator. Omaha World-

       Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), pNA.

                Summarizes the business case and experiences behind the launching of a small

                private business incubator and the services provided to other small start-ups.

Beech, W. (1999). The black enterprise guide to starting your own business. New York:


                Provides a list of services and resources that are commonly provided by

                business incubators, as well as some of the factors that entrepreneurs should

                consider when evaluating an incubator opportunity.

A Blueprint for our future: With our future at stake, the Detroit Regional Chamber is

       spearheading an initiative to chart a new course for southeast Michigan (Copy Editor).

       (2006, April - June). Detroiter Magazine (Detroit), 97.3, 14 (5).

                Reviews the efforts being made by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce to

                respond to Detroit‟s current poor economic climate with a plan “for the next

                generation”. Included are assessments of the current situation by those involved in

                this effort, their thoughts and suggestions on what corrective action is needed, and

                comparisons to other communities and regions that have faced similar challenges.

Bodipo-Memba, A. (2007, April 9). Venturing into the spotlight – investors look to state

       for energy innovation. Detroit Free Press, 8A.

                Identifies areas of the Michigan economy that are most likely to attract venture

                capital money (advanced batteries, biofuels and solar energy). Provides estimates

                and projections for venture capital funding and investments within Michigan.
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Boone, R. (2006, September 5). A small office space gives start-ups some room to grow; Small

       business incubator provides an inexpensive office with a chance to network. Olympian

       (Olympia, Washington), pNA

              Discusses the benefits and services that will be available to the clients of a

              recently-established business incubator in Thurston County; Describes the types

              of businesses that have contracts with the business incubator and the advantages

              that they expect to realize as a result.

Creswell, J. (2003). Research design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches

       (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, Calf. Sage

              Provides an explanation of three approaches to writing research proposals,

              including the qualitative approach used in this proposal. Includes templates,

              guidelines, and in-depth discussion of when each approach is appropriate for

              conducting research, along with examples and suggestions.

DeMoss, J. (2006, August 13). Business incubator in Ogden, Utah, encourages success

       for companies. Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah), pNA.

              Offers interviews with clients of the subject business incubator, which reveal

              some of the features and services of the incubator that have contributed to their

              success, including mentoring, industry connections, proximity to business leaders,

              reduced expenses, and available financing.

Dietderich, A. (2006, June 5). Michigan has the potential to become a biotech powerhouse, but

       for a state built on manufacturing, the task of developing that potential has been

       described as “Like playing chess with no squares”: Part 1 of 2. Crain’s Detroit Business

       (Detroit), 13.
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               An in-depth story on the possibilities of growing a high tech industry (biotech) in

               a state that has relied on other industries for economic growth in the past.

               Describes the reasons why the biotech industry should be considered in Southeast

               Michigan, the factors that will increase the success of such an effort, and the

               specific steps and actions already taken to promote biotech start-ups in the region.

Grensing, J. (2007, February 20). Whitewater plans business incubator. Wisconsin State Journal

       (Madison, Wisconsin), pNA.

               Focuses on the efforts of the city of Whitewater and the University of

               Washington-Whitewater to “determine the characteristics of successful and

               unsuccessful incubators in other parts of the country.” Identifies the findings and

               conclusions that were the basis of decisions regarding how to proceed with the

               incubator at UW-Whitewater.

Henderson, T. (2006, June 5). Expert: State must „rebrand‟ itself for the future. Crain’s Detroit

       Business (Detroit), M-8.

               Contains statistics and financial information relating to the amount of money

       spent by the State of Michigan on advertising and promotional materials and campaigns.

       Quantifies the financial aspects of Michigan‟s economic situation, the areas where money

       has been spent to improve the situation, and the results of those expenditures.

Henderson, T. (2006, October 9). Regional stocks down, lag national trends in 3rd quarter.

       Crain’s Detroit Business (Detroit), 4.

               Provides statistics, economic data, and empirical evidence of the state of the

               Southeast Michigan economy, and suggests reasons for the region‟s poor
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               economic performance in the face of improving business conditions and results

               elsewhere in the United States.

Hillstrom, K., & Collier, L. (2002). Business Incubators (Vol. 1, 2nd ed). Encyclopedia of Small

       Business. Detroit: Gale, 130-133.

               Provides a detailed review of business incubators, their services and resources,

               and strategies for using and applying their advantages. Covers the specific

               advantages of incubators, factors to consider in choosing an incubator, recent

               incubator innovations, and additional references.

Hillstrom, K., & Collier, L. (2002). National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) (Vol. 1,

       2nd ed). Encyclopedia of Small Business. Detroit: Gale, 769-770.

               Gives a detailed description of business incubators and the NBIA, including

               discussion of what business incubators are, the types of services incubators

               provide, the different types of incubator sponsors, the criteria businesses must

               meet to qualify for assistance, and the benefits of membership in the NBIA..

Jarema, M. (2006, November 21). GVSU president hails partnerships – education is key to

       state‟s success, Thomas Haas says. Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), B2.

               Discusses the value of education in public and private partnerships in Michigan,

               and lists the many currently-active partnerships that Grand Valley State

               University has in Michigan, including the Alternative and Renewable Energy

               Center business incubator in Muskegon.

Kosdrosky, T. (2004, November 29). Economic downshift: The Big Three‟s market share has

       dropped 14 points over a decade. Southeast Michigan‟s economy is stuck in neutral while
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       the rest of the country has hummed along through a recovery. Crain’s Detroit Business

       (Detroit), 1.

               Explains how the Southeast Michigan economy has suffered as a result of the

               fortunes of the Big Three automakers misfortunes, provides statistics and data that

               quantify the magnitude of the economic impact, recommends changes and

               initiatives for addressing the economic malaise, and suggests metrics that might

               be used to monitor and quantify any signs of economic recovery.

Lane, A. (2006, September 18). State Execs see flat regional economy. Crain’s Detroit Business

       (Detroit), pNA-.

               Summarizes the results of a survey of employers in Southeast Michigan and

               elsewhere regarding their perceptions of the state of their local economies and

               business environments. Includes statistics from the survey that indicate the

               percentages of the responses to survey questions, and empirical data and

               comments regarding the business outlook for those regions.

The lowdown on Motown: Developing cities (can Detroit be revived?) (Copy Editor). (2007,

       February 3). The Economist (US), pNA.

               Discusses Detroit‟s current economic condition, the conditions that led up to it,

               and how local leaders business and government, as well as residents of the region,

               have responded to their situation.

Marshall, C. & Rossman, G. (1999). Designing Qualitative Research (3rd edition). Thousand

       Oaks, California: Sage.
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              Provides detailed insight and recommendations regarding the preparation of a

              qualitative proposal, including the “what” and “how” of the study, explanation of

              the researcher‟s role, ethics, and collecting, recording and analyzing data.

Morath, E. (2007, March 28). Plan adds power to small business – regional coalition seeks

       federal, state support for company accelerators. Detroit News (Detroit, Michigan), 1C.

              Outlines a plan for securing the funding needed by a coalition of economic

              developers to fund an expanded network of business accelerators in Michigan.

Morrison, K. G. (2006, November 3). Hatching haute fashion – Detroit fashion incubator offers

       edgy garments by local designers. Detroit News (Detroit, Michigan), 1E

              Discusses the creation of a business incubator that is dedicated to businesses in

              the fashion design industry in Michigan.

Mueckenheim, J. K. (2002). Retail Business Incubator. Business Plans Handbook (Vol. 9).

       Detroit: Gale. 325-347.

              A very in-depth review that focuses on all aspects of retail business incubators. It

              uses detailed explanations and examples to demonstrate how incubation programs

              “have become essential economic development tools for communities that are

              trying to improve their economies and keep them healthy.”

Murray, S. (2007, January 25). Hope from past Pfizer closing – drug maker‟s former Skokie site

       thriving with new owners. Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), E2.

              Describes how the community of Skokie, Illinois recovered from a Pfizer plant

              closing similar to that experienced recently by Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the

              similarities between the two situations that could lead to Ann Arbor‟s resurgence

              as well.
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Nax, S. (2006, December 2). Warming to a new concept: Local businesses growing at a rapid

       rate are getting a little help from CargoBay, a new $8 million business incubator in

       Clovis. Fresno Bee (Fresno, California). pNA.

               Provides a case study, with details, of how a successful local business was able to

               use the services and resources provided by a private incubator.

Pare, M. (2006, December 17). Business incubator full, has waiting list. Chattanooga Times/Free

       Press (Chattanooga, Tennessee). pNA.

               Summarizes the success stories of several successful clients of a local

               business incubator, providing details of what features of the incubator were of

               most benefit to each company.

Price, C. (1999). 101+ Answers to the most frequently asked questions from entrepreneurs. New

       York: Wiley. 54-56

               Provides a brief answer to the question of whether a new start-up should locate in

               a business incubator, including a brief history of and facts about incubators, and a

               list of the most common benefits.

Promoting business and technology incubation for improved competitiveness of small and

       medium-sized industries through application of modern and efficient technologies. (2004).

       New York: United Nations Publications.

               A very lengthy, detailed report by a United Nations commission on the regional

               perspectives of promoting business and technology incubators, and some of the

               best practices for providing the benefits of those incubators.

Shamus, K. J. (2007, April 8). Universities‟ alliance will help state, schools say. Detroit Free

       Press (Detroit, Michigan). 1A.
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               Discusses the success that Michigan‟s three largest public universities have

               experienced in converting technologies from their research labs into successful

               job-creating start-ups, and their efforts to have the University Research Corridor,

               which they created, funded separately from 12 other public Michigan universities.

Shirouzu, N. (2007, April 13). In quest for better battery, keep an Ion Nationalism. Wall Street

       Journal, B1-B4.

               Summarizes the current battle in the automobile industry to develop alternate fuel

               vehicles, the need for technological breakthroughs in the field of advanced energy

               storage systems (batteries), and the incubators and other partnerships that have

               been formed in response to this need.

Steffens, R. (1992, May). What the incubators have hatched: An assessment of a much-used

               economic development tool. Planning, pNA.