Taxpayer-subsidized startup hatchery hails revamped facility

Taxpayer-subsidized startup hatchery hails revamped facility

September 8th, 2011 by Carey O'Neil in Business Around the Region

Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Edd Wilson talks during the dedication of the newly renovated business incubator located on the North Shore on Wednesday. Also known as the Hamilton County Business Development Center, the facility has received new floors, heating and air and windows among other renovations.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

Between 20 and 25 successful businesses are projected to start up in Chattanooga each year following a $2 million investment from Hamilton County.

The Chattanooga Business Development Center used the money, supplemented with $2.9 million of state and federal grants, to renovate its Cherokee Boulevard location in North Chattanooga. The 127,000-square-foot campus now hosts state-of-the-art conference rooms, economically friendly windows and lights and a heating and air conditioning system which, unlike the old system, can actually serve the entire building.

"With all of this, it's going to bring an entirely new dynamic to startup businesses," said Tom Edd Wilson, president of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce which operates the center. "It's a huge deal."

The business incubator leases office or industrial space to entrepreneurs at below-market rates and provides business training for about three years as startup businesses get off the ground. Each month, advisers meet with business owners in fields as varied as attorneys and military tomahawk manufacturers to make sure their operations are running smoothly.

With a maximum occupancy of 60 businesses, Hamilton County's Business Development Center is the largest small business incubator in Tennessee and the third largest in the country.

Over the course of the yearlong construction project, use of the incubator dropped off. But as construction finished over the last two weeks, seven businesses signed onto the three-year program, bringing the center to half occupancy at 30.

Kathryn Foster, director of small business and entrepreneurship at the center, said its businesses create between 150 and 175 full-time jobs, with gross wages around $8 million.

"We hope to see more," she said. "We're ready to be filled up."

If history is any indication, future entrepreneurs will be chomping at the bit for those spots.

Of the hundreds of businesses to get started at the incubator, Foster said 92 percent are succeeding after three years. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 69 percent of new businesses survive two years or less.

"That's what this is all about. If a startup business can grown and do well and move on, it will create jobs," Tennessee's Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey said to about 60 local politicians and entrepreneurs at the site's dedication ceremony. "That's our goal, for everybody to succeed and create more jobs."

With the global recession limiting jobs and imposing difficulties upon job-creating small businesses, Wilson said the Business Development Center is needed more than ever.

"Business will never be done like it has been done. It has changed forever," he said. "That's what this facility is all about."

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