Chattanooga's small-business incubator enters new era

Chattanooga's small-business incubator enters new era

December 9th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Richard Carmack, left, shows Richard McGinnis tomahawks Thursday during an open house at the Hamilton County Business Development Center.

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.


Funding sources:

• Hamilton County: $2 million

• U.S. Economic Development Administration: $1.5 million

• U.S. Housing and Urban Development: $1.37 million

Source: Chamber

Chattanooga's small-business incubator, with upgrades such as EPB's ultra-fast Internet and a modern telephone system, will attract more technology companies, officials said Thursday.

The state's biggest business incubator and the third largest in the country is ready for a new era after a major revamp, said Kathryn Foster, who directs the facility for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce

"It has always had good bones," she said about the 90-year-old Cherokee Boulevard building that received the nearly $5 million refurbishing.

The Hamilton County Business Development Center opened in 1988 after holding the 3M Co. for many years.

New windows, an upgraded roof, air conditioning in the manufacturing parts of the structure and an upgrade in technology were included in the work that began over a year ago.

Over that time, the Business Development Center wasn't able to recruit new businesses and now is a little more than half full with about 35 companies, Foster said.

She predicted the 125,000-square-foot facility soon will be filled up and have a waiting list as it typically has since it began serving as an incubator for start-ups in 1988.

Business people in the center said they can see the difference.

Richard Carmack Jr., owner of tomahawk maker RMJ Tactical LLC, said his manufacturing facilities now have air conditioning.

"It's fabulous," he said.

Mark Quering of technology services company Up:time said his wife worked in the building in the 1990s and was "blown away" by the changes.

He especially cited access to conference rooms at the facility. It now boasts a 3,000-square-foot technology conference center, which officials said may be the best part of the rework.

The center offers below market rate space as well as access to seminars, help with business plans, accounting setup services and counselors.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the money to upgrade the facility was well spent.

Coppinger said the companies don't just operate in the incubator but graduate outside the facility and employ more people.

Since 1988, the facility has hosted more than 500 companies. According to the Chamber, more than 90 percent of graduate firms are still in business after five years compared to about half that figure nationally.