Sunday, March 22, 2009

Anderson Stops Funding Incubator

I got to say The Herald Bulletin's City pulls plug on incubator funding raises more questions than answers.

Herein lies the meat of what is going on:
"The city had been paying $75,000 annually to the ABI, a facility that houses small upstart businesses and provides them with affordable rent, learning opportunities, partnerships and other resources.

“The city has given us 120 days notice that they will stop funding the ABI,” said DeWayne Landwehr, executive director of the Flagship Enterprise Center. “We are diligently trying to find a way to keep that effort going.”"

But the why seems murky to me:

Ockomon also said the incubator was not operating the way it was intended, with business owners taking advantage of its less expensive rent and staying there longer than the expected need to establish themselves. He said the incubator’s operation would have to have been much better for city officials to have considered continuing to fund it.

“What’s happening is the businesses are staying too long and other businesses are trying to sublease,” he said. “The whole premise of incubating the business is not taking place. When you’re doing it on the back of the taxpayers, you have to be careful about how you spend your money.”

So when did the City find this out? What alternatives did they to fix the problem? Are the businesses staying over making money? Do they have the potential to make a contribution to Anderson's economy? Does the incubator and the City need to reconsider how long is needed for incubation?

Because the H-B followed the information from Ockomon with:

Kern said the building was was right on target with the amount budgeted to it from the city, and he expected to be under budget next year. The partnership between the businesses there, he said, made things run smoothly, from business partnerships to caring for the facility.

“We are disappointed because we thought we had the word of the city,” he said. “We thought the city would keep their part of the bargain. I hate to see them shoot themselves in the foot over something that may be shortsighted. We’re going to lose a major magnet for thinkers and doers in Anderson.”

Is it really a magnet? I think small businesses are where the City needs to go - no one anywhere will ever see soemthing like the old GM plants we used to have - but how effective has the incubator been? What benchmarks, metric were used? And if there were none, why not?

I am even a bit more mystified by this paragraph:

Ockomon said the city still would focus on small business retention programs and economic development, but Landwehr said losing the ABI would be negative for the city.

How is the City going to focus on small businesses? What other programs does the City have in place? Is there any meat in the soup and, if so, what is the meat in the soup?

The current economic crisis will pass. It may pass like a kidney stone and it may pass a lot easier, but when it passes in what will be the City's position? Flat-footed and looking for the ball or poised for a shot at the goal?

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