03/10/05 — Mount Olive reaches for mini-grant to jump-start retail operations downtown

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Mount Olive reaches for mini-grant to jump-start retail operations downtown

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on March 10, 2005 1:47 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- The town of Mount Olive will pursue a grant to bring a retail incubator to downtown.

The Mount Olive Town Board of Commissioners held a public hearing Monday night to gather comments about the idea, but nobody spoke except the engineering consultant, David Harris of RSM Harris Associates.

"There are not many models for small town retail incubators," Harris said. "You have such an asset in your downtown. This would really help it grow."

Harris told the board the state office of the Rural Economic Development Center is making $400,000 community development block grants available for towns and counties. The money will be used to buy buildings or renovate existing buildings for young businesses that are just getting started.

He said Mount Olive and its partners could buy the old Peebles Building on Main Street, which is owned by Mount Olive College. The more partners the better, he said.

Although no local match is required, most projects have some local money going into them. He said local governments can earn points in the competition for the grants by contributing local money.

He said the incubator will help start-up businesses survive by working together in the same building for a couple of years until they need larger accommodations. After the two years, they either need more space or, because the resources and market are not there, he said they move out and make room for the next new business.

He said the college could be one of the partners and provide training at the incubator. The businesses in an incubator have their own offices, but they also share space that is used for training and access to office equipment. Some community colleges use business incubators for their small business centers, said Harris. Economic Development Commissions sometimes make the incubators their permanent homes.

"The local community, not just the town, can provide part of the cost of the project," he said. "It would be a strong project."

After the public hearing, the board voted unanimously to send a letter of intent to the state saying it's going to apply for the grant.

If the state considers the town's intention a viable project, the town will be invited to apply for the grant and will have to hold another public hearing. The invitations to apply for the grants will go out in mid-April, and the applications will be due by May 31 in the Rural Center office.

"They're looking at turning the money around in July," said Harris. "They want the money out on the street."