Matt Dawson’s technology firm, Image Cog, is located on West Lafayette Street, across from the Trenton Marriott. Photo by Diccon Hyatt.
Matt Dawson’s technology firm, Image Cog, is located on West Lafayette Street, across from the Trenton Marriott. Photo by Diccon Hyatt.

Matt Dawson has a tendency to be in the middle of major events.

He was part of the story of the late 1990s – the crash of the dotcom bubble, and can even be seen in the background of the movie, which captured the rise and fall of the company he worked for at the time, He left the company three weeks before it sold its furniture.

Now, he hopes to be part of a different story: the revival of Trenton as a place to do business.

At a street-level office on West Lafayette Street, Dawson, one employee, an intern and a stable of freelancers do interactive design work for an ever-growing number of clients. His company, Image Cog, is one of the only high-tech startups in downtown Trenton.

Another, Dana Hutchins’ Inforest Communications, is a product of the Trenton Business and Technology Center. Its office is currently located in the Trenton Makes Building at 439 S. Broad St.

Dawson, 38, said he took a chance on the town’s revival two years ago, sensing the city was on the verge of a major renaissance.

He doesn’t regret that choice – yet.

“There’s a lot of excitement about what could be or what should be,” he said. “But Trenton still has not gotten over its negative image. I think you can either choose to be part of the energy, part of something that’s happening, or you can choose not to be.”

When he first started the company, Dawson said he looked at real estate in Trenton, Princeton, and Kingston, where he lived. All had offices available at reasonable rates, but only Trenton had the bustle and the potential to be a major business center, he said. Only Trenton offered the chance to be in on the ground floor of something great.

Still, Dawson and others like him will only wait so long before deciding the elevator is not going up fast enough.

There are major problems with the city that must be contended with, he said. One is parking.

Image Cog clients have to park at the Marriott across the street, unless they are lucky enough to find metered street parking. The business revival plans cooked up by local planners never seem to include free parking for people visiting the businesses they hope will move in, Dawson said.

Image Cog does business with a number of local companies, including Thomas Edison State College. Dawson has other irons in the fire as well, including producing a gambling program for an overseas client.

Image Cog also has advertising agency clients who need high-end Web sites, greeting cards and presentations. The company is envisioned as a cog that fits into any machine – hence the name.

So, how long will Dawson wait before deciding whether the great Trenton renaissance is going to happen on his watch?

“I don’t know,” he said. “The state of Trenton has got to keep improving. I’m not going to be a martyr. But so long as things are moving in the right direction, Image Cog is going to stick it out. There are chances you have to take in business,” he said.

For the time being, Image Cog is an active part of the local business community. Dawson has had a presence at the small business expo every year except the one held last month, which he couldn’t attend for a happy reason – clients are keeping him too busy.

Dawson may ride the wave of Trenton’s burgeoning prosperity. Or, just like before, he may be the among the last to leave.

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Diccon Hyatt is business editor of U.S. 1. He has worked for Community News since 2006 and was previously community editor of the Ewing Observer, the Hopewell Express, the Lawrence Gazette, and the Trenton Downtowner. From 2003 to 2006, he was a general assignment reporter for the Middletown Transcript in Middletown, Delaware. In 2002, he graduated from the University of Delaware, where he was features editor of the student newspaper, The Review. He has won numerous awards from the Maryland-Delaware D.C. Press Association and the Association of Free Community Newspapers for features, news, and opinion writing. He is married and lives in Marlton, NJ.