Business incubator explored

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 6, 2003

Four years ago, a feasibility study was done in Covington County for a small business incubator. According to Tucson Roberts, president and chief executive officer of the Covington County Economic Development Commission, the report, which cost about $16,000, came back with a favorable outlook for the incubator's prospect here.

"Nothing ever happened," he said.

He, along with the mayors of Opp and Andalusia, the chairman of the Covington County Commission, the president of Lurleen B. Wallace Community College, and others, have decided to take another look at that feasibility study.

The problem is, demographics and other things change in four years, so now the group will invest an additional $7,000 or so to have it upgraded by the original company. At the Tuesday night meeting of the Andalusia City Council, the council approved of an approximately $1,200 appropriation to cover their share of the upgrade costs.

"This is something that will help," said Mayor Earl Johnson at the meeting.

The City of Opp, the county, LBW, the CCEDC

have also contributed toward the updated analysis.

"The feasibility study looks at bank loans, new industry, demographics and analyzes all of that to give you a projection of if an incubator would be successful." said Roberts.

One of the obstacles to overcome is misconception.

"A lot of people don't really understand what an incubator is," he said.

According to Roberts, a small business incubator offers those with a start-up idea to get their business going without having to deal with high overhead.

"They take people with ideas and help them grow those ideas into a successful business," said Roberts. "They're designed so people can get into a business very inexpensively."

The fledgling businesses are centrally located, and cut the costs of overhead by receiving bottom of the line rent rates from the incubator, as well as sharing the costs of things like fax machines and photocopiers. The incubator facilities can be set up to accommodate everything from catering to computers.

But the incubator is more than a hen house to hold the eggs.

"They teach the business owner," said Roberts. He said that many people have good ideas, but no idea how to get their business up and running.

"Those first two years spent in learning can be critical," he said, adding that most businesses fail in those two years. At the Andalusia City Council meeting, Councilman Mike Jones stated that the survival rate of businesses coming out of an incubator were higher than those starting on their own.

The business incubators offer mentoring, with different classes offered from different sources, from the Small Business Association on getting started, to talks from local businessmen, offering insights on the specific needs an dproblems of the area. Roberts hopes to have active involvement from LBW as well, and feels that having Dr. Ed Meadows take over at the school can only be a plus for the incubator, since Meadows was the chairman of the incubator authority in Anniston.

"We're lucky to have him," Roberts said.

Lynn Stacy, with the company that did the first feasibility study, also runs the incubator in Mobile and will be providing more than demographics with his revised study.

"They'll tell us where it ought to go, how it ought to be set up, what the office and

manufacturing mix should be, and even offer a rough budget for the first year," said Roberts.

The CCEDC should have the rough draft of the revised feasibility study back within a month, he said, when all the parties involved can see if this report, like its predecessor, is favorable.

"If it comes back feasible, it's something we should do," said Roberts.