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Regional Business Incubator plans unveiled

December 21, 2010
REGION—Officials from the Grafton County Economic Development Council (GCEDC) and Plymouth State University last week held a Community Forum to unveil plans for a Regional Business Enterprise Center to be located in Plymouth.

The ambitious undertaking has been under discussion for nearly 10 years, and is now coming to fruition, as GCEDC is poised to purchase and renovate vacant New Hampshire Department of Transportation owned commercial property to house the venture at 149 Main St., adjacent to the "roundabout" in downtown Plymouth, on the doorstep of Plymouth State University.

PSU President Sara Jayne Steen welcomed attendees to the Community Forum and underscored that the university's partnership with the GCEDC on this project represented PSU's ongoing efforts to support economic development in the region and to "bring people together on behalf of good ideas."

According to Grafton County Economic Development Council's Executive Director, Mark Scarano, the Enterprise Center will serve as a business incubator, helping get new businesses off the ground and nurturing them until they grow into financially viable companies, able to relocate in the local region.

Ultimately, the goal is job creation for the local community.

"According to the Small Business Administration statistics, we know that most startups fail within the first three years," said Scarano, "But 87 percent of companies in business incubator programs graduate and are still in business after three to five years of startup. That is a big difference. This is a relatively new economic development strategy that can be very successful."

Scarano points to the success of the Dartmouth Regional Technology Center in Lebanon, a partnership between North Country Council and Dartmouth, which he says has created more than 180 quality high technology jobs since it was established in 2006.

The Plymouth incubator would be geared to serve many types of companies, with a focus on "green business" and other entrepreneurial ventures.

GCEDC Board of Directors Chairman Bill Webb explained that the Plymouth Business Enterprise Center will also provide support services to existing businesses so that they can expand and grow.

"From an economic development standpoint, any new job is a good job," said Webb. "One could argue that jobs that are added to existing business may even be more stable than jobs that result from startups."

While Grafton County Economic Development Council will own the Business Enterprise Center and serve as landlord for incubator tenants, Plymouth State's College of Business Administration will oversee programs, an extension of the existing business support services available to local companies through the award-winning Small Business Institute and other departments at PSU.

Craig Zamzow from PSU's Small Business Institute said that in addition to access to the resources and technical support provided by the Business Enterprise Center, the incubator will help emerging companies with business plan preparation, loan applications, marketing plans, Web site design, focus groups, sales training, media assistance and networking. He expects that the Center will serve not just incubator tenants housed at the Enterprise Center in Plymouth, but will also provide counseling, resources and 'drop-in' support to the many "home-based businesses" that are emerging in New Hampshire in the new Internet marketing environment.

Plans for the Business Enterprise Center include a $1.1 million expansion and renovation of the existing building in Plymouth. The new facility will house an "anchor tenant" on the ground floor and include meeting rooms, offices and incubator tenant space, with amenities on a second floor.

Officials unveiled a handsome conceptual design by Tom Samyn of Samyn D'Elia Architects that showed an attractive streetscape and a two-story building with retail commercial space on the ground floor and offices for incubator tenants under a second story Mansard roof.

Scarano said the design treated the building "respectfully" and reflected the culture and history of the surrounding area. He added that the intention is to make the building a model of energy efficiency within the scope of the renovation of an existing building, and GCEDC expects to work closely with the Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative and the Better Buildings Initiative in Plymouth to accomplish this objective.

"It is a great location," said Scarano. "It will be a 'Gateway' Building into the downtown, with immediate campus access."

Scarano said that the 11,000-square-foot building will house an established business as an "anchor" tenant on the ground floor to provide "stable cash flow" for the enterprise, with incubator tenants on the second floor. In keeping with the look and feel of Main Street, he expects the anchor will be retail, although he didn't rule out other possibilities.

GCEDC expects to move forward with the purchase of the building in January of 2011. According to the timeline presented at the community forum, the building will remained unoccupied in the immediate future, as GCEDC engages partners and supporters and continues fundraising for the venture. But officials are looking towards hiring an Incubator Manager for the venture in 2012, with full occupancy and programs up and running by early 2013.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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