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    Health-Tech Corridor gains first director; Jeff Epstein takes on real estate, marketing in Midtown

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Health-Tech Corridor has its first full-time director, four years after the city of Cleveland and nonprofit partners announced plans to re-brand the 3-mile stretch between downtown and University Circle.
    Jeff Epstein recently signed on to shepherd marketing and development along the corridor, a 1,600-acre target area for businesses with a healthcare or technology bent. The former vice president of development at the Coral Co., Epstein now is stationed at neighborhood nonprofit MidTown Cleveland, Inc.
    Established in 2010, the Health-Tech Corridor represents a partnership between the city, the Cleveland Foundation, MidTown Cleveland and BioEnterprise, a nonprofit focused on the creation and growth of biotech businesses.

    "I think with all the explosive growth that we're seeing in University Circle and downtown, you can start to see residential and commercial activity push west from the circle and east from downtown," Epstein said. "And we've got a neighborhood that has a rich historical context for commerce that has seen decades of disinvestment. The trend of reversing that has started."
    Projects including the MidTown Tech Park, a three-building blend of new construction and rehab, have revived once-barren sections of Midtown. But some investors say activity along the corridor slowed last year, after key people at the nonprofits were reassigned or left for other jobs.
    To keep the momentum alive, the Cleveland Foundation approved $500,000 in grants for the Health-Tech Corridor in March. MidTown won $344,000 to hire a director and cover planning and other costs. The rest of the money went to the city, which expects to hire a corridor-focused project manager.
    "We decided we needed someone who could focus full-time on being a champion for the corridor - locally, regionally and nationally," Tracey Nichols, the city's economic development director, said in a written statement. "With his background in marketing and real estate development and passion for Northeast Ohio, Jeff was the perfect fit."
    A Duke University graduate, Epstein worked in polling and market research in Washington, D.C., before earning a law degree at Georgetown University. He spent seven years at Coral after a one-year Cleveland Executive Fellowship.
    Epstein said his biggest challenge in Midtown is figuring out which part of the formidable workload - understanding the real estate, encouraging development and coming up with local, regional and national marketing strategies - to tackle first.
    "I think the opportunity right now is as great as it ever was," he said. "What really needs to be done is for me to roll up my sleeves and execute on a marketing plan, and to continue to leverage the relationships along the corridor to build more space and to fill more space."
    Aram Nerpouni, president and chief executive officer at BioEnterprise, pointed to lease deals at the MidTown Tech Park, the growth of tenants including Cleveland HeartLab and the pending sale of Simbionix, a company that makes simulator equipment used to train medical students and surgeons, as evidence of the corridor's potential. 3D Systems of South Carolina is buying Simbionix, which will maintain its headquarters at the Baker Electric Building on Euclid Avenue.
    "Part of the role of the Health-Tech Corridor is to make sure people have the resources and support they need, so when acquisitions happen, companies are inclined to keep jobs here," Nerpouni said.
    "Having Jeff come in," he added, "will really provide a nice jolt of energy and show that all the partners are committed."