Development group aims to create small-business incubator

April 30, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE |

HAGERSTOWN — A local development group wants to create a business incubator that would help small companies and foster potential new growth in and around Hagerstown’s struggling downtown.

At an informational meeting Monday, James A. Mills, chairman of Cascade Management Group Inc. of Hagerstown, said a business incubator could help bring jobs and new economic development opportunities to Washington County.

On average, successful incubators add about 90 jobs to an area, he said.

“Our downtown is decaying,” Mills said. “It needs help, and I’m basically tired of the lip service. Now it’s time to act.”

About 15 people attended the meeting at the Hagerstown Hotel and Convention Center, including officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Small Business Administration, state senator’s and delegate’s offices, and local banks.

Robin L. Ferree, of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, also was in attendance to learn more about the group’s proposal.

Business incubators provide a supportive environment designed to assist in start-up and early stage operations of new companies. Providing help in developing a business plan, getting financing and securing the appropriate contracts for start-up, incubators help consolidate resources in one place, Mills said.

Although a location for an incubator wasn’t specifically discussed, Mills said he favors a site that would benefit downtown Hagerstown, especially now that there is a proposal for a new multiuse sports and events center on the table.

“This will complement the stadium because businesses will bring their friends down, their clients down and say, ‘Let’s go see a baseball game,’” Mills said. “I am very much in support of the stadium for the fact that it’s going to help our downtown area.”

The city currently operates a small business incubator at 60 W. Washington St., in the former CVS building. Think ReInk, an ink cartridge refilling store based out of Chambersburg, Pa., serves as the building’s anchor tenant.

The five-member city council approved spending of capital improvement funds and grants to buy the building for $220,000 in January 2011.

Mills said he hopes to work with Hagerstown officials in establishing an incubator, aimed at “mom-and-pop” types of businesses. Helping small enterprises owned by females, veterans and minorities is also a goal of the initiative, he said.

“In this county alone, there is only a handful of woman-owned businesses, as well as veteran-owned,” Mills said.

Hagerstown Community College started a high-tech business incubator in 1994. Since then, HCC has assisted more than 100 businesses in its 34,000-square-foot facility, according to Chris Marschner, manager of the Technical Innovation Center at HCC.

About 60 companies have moved on from the HCC incubator and created about 400 jobs, said Marschner, who attended Monday’s meeting to learn more about the group’s proposal.

A supporter of the concept, Perry Ealim, president and chief executive officer of Merge Business Development Systems Inc., in Pasadena, Md., stressed the importance of city and county commitments in helping a business incubator get off the ground.

Once businesses hit the stage of graduating from the incubator, they tend to grow and expand locally, thus benefiting the city and county, Ealim said.

Mills said the group will meet with city economic development officials Thursday morning.

Cascade Management Group Inc. is a company owned by President/CEO Sandra L. Calimer of Hagerstown. Its office is at 11925 Pheasant Trail in Hagerstown.

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