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WREN still looking for Berlin site


January 27, 2010
BERLIN — Marilinne Cooper, executive director of the Women's Rural Entrepreneurial Network, came to the Berlin Industrial Development and Park Authority meeting on Wednesday, to talk to the committee about WREN and its recent forays in Berlin.

"We help people start and grow businesses," she told the committee," and we have a lot more we do as well."

WREN is a Bethlehem-based nonprofit that trains and fosters entrepreneurs, both men and women. They have over 1,000 members. Several members from BIDPA went to Bethlehem last fall to learn about the organization, but this was the first time a representative from WREN addressed the board.

WREN is already in Berlin, Ms. Cooper said; they have held several entrepreneur training workshops in Berlin. Now they are considering a greater presence in the city.

"People always asked us how could WREN be replicated someplace else," she said. Berlin might be the perfect place.

But before anything happens WREN is conducting a study to determine the feasibility of such an idea with the help of the Tillotson Fund. The study will help determine whether Berlin would make a good location for the next iteration of WREN, but the organization is already planning a farmers' market for Berlin.

"We will know so much more about Berlin after we do the market this summer," Ms. Cooper said.

There are challenges to duplicating WREN in Berlin, however.

"It looks really expensive," Ms. Cooper said, because the organization doesn't have a location in the city.

"If anybody has a building they'd like to give us or rent at low cost please let us know," she said.

BIDPA owns several buildings, including the former Rite Aid building on Main Street, which they are in the process of renovating.

Councilor Mark Evans asked if Berlin was more expensive than other places around the state. Ms. Cooper said no, but WREN is firmly established in Bethlehem, with several buildings, so expanding the programs or other offerings there is cheap. Berlin simply has the same start up costs any other city or town in New Hampshire would have, she said.

Ms. Cooper addressed some of the topics that commonly discussed regarding development in Berlin.

"What we saw is that Berlin needs to become a destination," she said. WREN has been able to make that happen in Bethlehem, and it could do the same thing in Berlin.

Berlin also needs more entrepreneurial training, she said.

"People in Berlin are a little risk averse. People haven't really thought about striking out on their own. There's a change of thinking that has to happen here."

If WREN had a consistent presence, she said, it could help transform that thinking, and also get more recognition so people would take advantage of their offerings.

BIDPA Chair Dick Huot indicated he'd like to see WREN land in Berlin.

"I'm very interested to see how the farmers' market goes," he said, "and then I'm interested in the next step."

Martin Lord Osman
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