Thursday, September 9, 2010

3 more companies eyeing Centre for Business and Research

By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Sunday, September 5, 2010 12:11 AM CDT

The Centre for Business and Research at 1016 Allen St. has a lone tenant, but that is expected to change next year, said Madison Silvert, executive vice president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp.

Hollison Technologies LLC was the first startup business to occupy the converted tobacco warehouse, moving in a few months ago.

"I have draft leases out to three more companies," Silvert said.

When the EDC pitched the idea of establishing this incubator for food and life sciences businesses, the goal was to have 10 companies ensconced in the building within three years.

"It's going along with my expectations," Silvert said. "We very well could have four or five this year."

The idea is to provide fledgling companies with the tools they need to focus on growing their businesses during the crucial startup period.

Hollison provides a product that "enables continuous sampling of food commodities with state-of-the-art detection of contaminants ranging from chemical to biological and radiological."

The new company's technology allows food producers to follow commodities through a web-based software tracking system.

Another local entrepreneur who still hopes to get her business established in the center is Alisha Hardison.

Her business plan for Dalisha's Desserts won the first eMerging Ventures Business Challenge in 2009.

Sponsored by the EDC's eMerging Ventures Center for Innovation, the prize was a $15,000 investment in her company plus six months of free rent in the Allen Street Centre.

"I hope to be in by the new year," said Hardison. "I may be able to work in the kitchen before then. ... We're waiting on inspections."

It's not like Hardison hasn't been busy. She and her husband welcomed their first baby, Layton Cooper Hardison, into their family three months ago.

She has, however, been anxious to get into the renovated building and has been trying to keep an already-established client base engaged until she can make the move. She's been turning away business.

Her Facebook page postings reveal the story of the Centre's transformation progress.

"All good things will come," Hardison said. "I expect to use that as my operations base, and I would like to expand in the future."

She expects to lease the space for five years.

Dalisha's Desserts will have the equipment she needs for her bakery, plus dine-in space where her customers can drop in and have a cup of coffee or soft drink. Hardison also will have whole cakes ready to buy and will take specialty cake orders.

Her vision includes a second location in Owensboro as well as a shop in Muhlenberg County, where she still has family and friends.

"I'm really excited about the location; it's a unique place," she said.

Silvert also feels good about the potential for signing the other two tenants.

Both are local start-up companies. He wouldn't name them since the leases haven't been signed yet. He identified one as being in the life sciences industry.

"Typically, a company will come in here after working out of their home," Silvert said. "They will work here for a while and then get new space. The goal is for them to get too big for here. It's baby steps."

All the amenities for start-up offered

All of the companies have their own space, with everyone also sharing common areas such as copy and break rooms and a large conference room equipped for presentations.

The leases are tailored for each tenant with all of them sharing access to broadband/Internet and utilities.

"We tried to think of the amenities the businesses would expect, but couldn't afford with a start-up," Silvert said. "We want them to be sustainable, long-term corporate citizens, and we want to give them the infrastructure to make that happen."

The rent each tenant pays depends on the space provided and what changes have to be made to it.

Each business pays for their other services such as long distance, insurance or other expenses.

Some infrastructure work is still taking place within the Centre. The contract for the phone system was awarded last month. The Internet infrastructure work has been awarded, and the switches and routers have been installed.

Silvert was ready to make the first purchase of scientific equipment for the Centre last week.

The building will be equipped with laboratories that have the basic equipment along with water, direct ventilation and specialized piped utilities.

Those "wet labs" are being paid for with a $986,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

While the companies may hire only from one to three persons, the cumulative effect of the local commerce is expected to be significant.

When the EDA announced its grant, officials said the Centre is expected to create 50 jobs over time and generate $20 million worth of private investment in the community.

Daviess County also is a partner in financing the Centre with a matching grant from coal severance funds through the Kentucky Department for Local Government.

The EDC also has a management contract with the city of Owensboro for the Centre, Silvert said.

"I collect the rent checks and help coordinate the design of the space," he said. "We're also an on-site resource for the companies."