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Expanding the incubator

August 11, 1998

After a $45,000 feasibility study that included a look at similar facilities at Hagerstown Community College and Shippensburg University, the Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority last week approved free space for an incubator for new businesses. It's such a good idea that its use shouldn't be limited to light manufacturing and distribution.

Such businesses are expected to utilize the Letterkenny site, because they'd be fit in with what's being done now at the soon-to-be-closed depot, according to Michael Ross, director of the Franklin Area Development Corporation. Ross said, however, that FADC wants to maintain as much flexibility as possible.

Incubators are designed to help start-up businesses that don't have the capital to get going on their own. By sharing space and services like telephone systems, fax machines and the like, the new firms can prosper in part by cutting their overhead.

It's an idea that's worked at Hagerstown Community College's Technical Innovations Center and Shippensburg University's Frehn Center for Management. The next step for the Letterkenny center is to find funds to renovate 42,000 square feet of space in a depot building, perhaps through a grant from the Economic Development Administration.

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The incubator idea is so sound and well-proven that it got us to thinking about the possibility of expanding it to the region's downtown areas, where many businesses start, but flounder because, like their manufacturing brethren, they're undercapitalized.

What if those small firms could share services like bookkeeping, fax machines and delivery vehicles? Could it make a difference in the number of firms that survive in downtown areas? It could, and might even inspire entrepreneurs who don't have the capital to purchase all those services on their own to give business a try.

Would it cost government a few bucks to set such a system in motion? Of course, but knowing the concept is sound and that the payoff would be more prosperous downtowns and an improved tax base, it seems like a risk worth taking.

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