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BIDPA meets with members of WREN to consider partnership in Berlin

November 18, 2009
BETHLEHEM — Members of the Berlin Industrial Development and Park Authority and city staff met with representatives from the Women's Rural Entrepreneurial Network last Tuesday to discuss ways the two organizations could partner in Berlin.

WREN is an organization that provides training and space for people looking to start and expand their own businesses. WREN was formed in 1994 by 12 women, but today they are an organization of 950 members, both men and women. They have a store in Bethlehem that sells products made by members, as well as an art gallery, a farmers market, incubator office space and training resources. WREN already runs training programs in Berlin, but they would like to increase their offerings in the area.

Marilinne Cooper, WREN's executive director, led a discussion in the basement of the WREN store and gallery about how the two organizations could help each other out, and what they could do for the city as a whole. She wrote a list of what each group would bring to a partnership and brainstormed ideas of how they could work together.

The BIDPA members were looking to find out more about the organization, if this would be a good partnership, and if WREN would be a good fit for the Rite Aid building on Main Street, which BIDPA recently acquired.

Ms. Cooper said WREN had been instrumental in the rebirth of Bethlehem. "The town has changed since WREN came here. We can make an impact. We think we could replicate this in another place."

WREN is doing a feasibility study on a whether it would make sense to move into Berlin, she said, with the help of the Tillotson Fund. The obvious first step, she said, was to organize a farmers market in Berlin. It would increase traffic through the city and create a draw, she said, while giving entrepreneurs a marketplace to sell their goods. They decided this would be a good step regardless of the feasibility study, she said, but they are still looking into further expansion into Berlin.

BIDPA chair Dick Huot said he would like to see the farmers market right along side their building on Main Street, in hopes of getting people to notice the property. He said he is hoping to find a buyer or a tenant to fill the property as soon as possible.

Ms. Cooper said the market could be every Thursday night so as to avoid conflicting with other farmers markets around the region. Beyond the market, she said, WREN's training and experience looks like it would be a good fit with Berlin. The organization still has a number of questions, but they want to increase their presence. She said she would like to know how much BIDPA was looking to sell the former Rite Aid property for.

The BIDPA members present were not able to give her an answer, but they said they were interested in looking further into the partnership.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Town of Alexandria
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