The Ignite E-Center program, which would provide networking and resources to would-be entrepreneurs, met a roadblock at the Urban Renewal Agency meeting Wednesday night when funding to set up shop in a city-owned building was ultimately shot down.

The URA had requested more information about the project at the November city council meeting. Economic Development Director Christine Jarski requested $60,000 from the agency for improvements to the Eastern Oregon Fire
Museum building, to house the pilot program.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Jarski said the Ignite E-Center program offers resources under one roof to future business owners so they know what it takes to start a business. She also said this resource is great for students who are looking to start their own business. Students can use the Center to meet people who would be mentors and for networking purposes.

“Ignite E-Center is a critical part of the economic development plan (in La Grande),” Jarski told the URA.

Agency members Mary Ann Miesner and Corrine Dutto both said they are in favor of the program — although Dutto admitted she was not supportive of it at first.

Agency member Nicole Howard, who had asked for more data at the November meeting, said she still has concerns.

“I don’t know if there’s a need,” Howard said.

She said she hasn’t seen a study justifying whether this is something that’s needed.

“It’s a nice idea, but I don’t see how it’s going to work,” she said.

Howard said although $60,000 may not seem like a lot of money, it might be enough to support the next business owner’s call-for-projects request.

Agency member Justin Rock agreed.

“It could go to another business where it would capitalize more,” he said.

Agency member Gary Lillard said he’s felt conflicted about giving this money to the Ignite E-Center.

“We just don’t know (whether it’d be successful),” he said. “It doesn’t seem like a slam dunk.”

Agency Director Robert Strope said there were some valid points made about the program.

“This is a bit of a leap of faith,” he said, using the same phrase he used at the previous meeting.

Strope said although “we don’t have a good perspective on how many budding entrepreneurs we have who could benefit from this program,” the Center could give those who are working in their basements or garages the resources to start a full-fledged business.

Referring to the Eastern Oregon Fire Museum building, he said funding the Ignite E-Center would be “a permanent investment in the facility. A year from now, we’ll know whether there’s a need for (the center). In the interim, we’ll be able to provide mentorships. Right now (the building) is not good usable space.”

Strope said if the funding is approved, the money would likely come from the URA’s capital budget, or perhaps out of the former Union County Economic Development Corporation budget since that’s no longer going to be used. It would not come out of the same budget used for the annual call for projects.

See complete story in Friday's Observer