January 16, 2002 11:00 pm
This 12,200 square-foot building, formerly R&R Bait Co., will provide a location for emerging business to begin operations. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).
This 12,200 square-foot building, formerly R&R Bait Co., will provide a location for emerging business to begin operations. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Thanks to a donation of a building and land at the Airport Industrial Park by Community Bank, Union County will be getting a chance to help new or emerging businesses get off the ground.

The bank foreclosed on the R&R Bait Co., which grew crickets for sale as pet food, and gave the property to the Union County Economic Development Corporation

We closed the deal this week, said UCEDC Executive Director Joel R. Frank.

The 12,200-square-foot building, on 2.2 acres on Smith Loop, provides UCEDC with the opportunity to provide a location for emerging businesses to begin operations.

Frank said the building could be divided into spots for about five businesses. A lot of work and planning is needed before the spaces can be occupied, but Frank said he would hope that the first occupants could move in by September or October, although thats not in stone, he said.

We still need a lot of public input. Well begin holding meetings next month to kick off the process.

He described the development of the incubator concept as taking place in three stages.

In the first phase, we want to identify the purpose, scope and participants. We want to identify anyone who wants to participate in the process. We want to form a public-private partnership, including involving the cities in the county, Frank said.

We are trying to put together the process now that we have acquired the building.

He said the plan is to create a committee from various public and private organizations that will have the involvement of their leaders to support and work with the incubator organization.

The Phase 1 planning includes UCEDC working with the Regional Services Institute and the Small Business Development Center.

Frank said his focus was to develop the business incubator process and put it to work in any area of the county where it will fit.

Obviously, he said, the airport location would not be suitable for a retail business.

The process itself is very important. Were trying to put together a plan to help any business expand or one that has some new ideas or one that is just starting up.

If we put this plan together right, we may be able to take the money it generates for us and develop the same scenario for downtown La Grande or other county sites and offer some of the same amenities we will at the airport, Frank said.

For now, well be looking for such businesses as cottage industries, light manufacturing, telecommunication companies, things like that. The site obviously wouldnt be a fit for heavy manufacturing.

He said there would be height restrictions because of the low ceiling of the building. Other than that, Were receptive to any business that would work in the building.

While the plan has not been formu-lated, usually such concepts involve a progressive rent structure over a few years so that a company can have working capital until its gets going.

How long a company would be allowed to stay is flexible right now, I think we would want to target a three-year period, but it could be longer, Frank said.

The first phase should be completed by spring. Phase 2 involves such things as site application, budget, a marketing plan, staffing support and a local promotion campaign, developing the services the incubator would provide and creating a grant research program.

Phase 3 would involve creating a calendar flow chart of the approximate time line of each phase, with a goal of final implementation of the plan and creating a plan that would run the everyday business of the incubator, Frank said.

Frank wants as much input as he can get and wants cities and the county to be involved.

Ive seen a lot of these incubator plans in different Northwest areas, and the ones that succeed are the ones where communities are behind them and involved. Ones with a single entity dont last long.

Anyone who wants to be involved, has questions or wants to offer input can reach Frank at the UCEDC office, 541-963-0926.