Polymer Valley? While almost every state in the union is fighting to attract new computer and electronics companies, Ohio is looking elsewhere. Although it carries no cachet in these days of bits and bytes, Ohio is putting money in plastics, anyway. In August, the state invested $4.1 million in matching research funds to attract new businesses and turn the Cleveland-Akron area into Polymer Valley.

At least Ohio is trading on its strengths: It is the home of an estimated 700 poly mer-related enterprises, including Good year Tire and Rubber Co. Many factorie in the hard-hit Ohio Valley are quiet now but the state is betting that high-technology applications of polymers could bring a new boom.

The grant money will be used to establish a joint research center involving Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and the University of Akron, which have two of the country's top polymer research and development departments. The Greater Cleveland Growth Association is seeking matching funds from companies interested in co-sponsoring research on new polymer applications.

"We're encouraging small companies to participate," says Jack Wolfe, manager of development services for the Growth Association's Cleveland Area Development Corp. "They generally don't have the facilities for basic research, let alone applications work. We're hoping [the new center] can offer them these strengths."

Some of the work focuses on computers. At Case Western, researchers are trying to develop polymer film to replace silicon in computer chips. Scott Rickert, an assistant professor of macromolecular science, predicts that light-conducting polymer film will make computers faster, cheaper, and more powerful than those using silicon, and that in 20 years polymer film will dominate the computer industry.

Silicon Valley, eat your heart out.