Council ponders airport business incubator concept

The Hollister City Council is considering taking a crack at a
plan hatched by the Economic Development Corporation to create a
business incubator project.
The Hollister City Council is considering taking a crack at a plan hatched by the Economic Development Corporation to create a business incubator project.

The idea, introduced by EDC Director Al Martinez to the Council on Monday, proposes to tear down the charred remains of Building 25 at the Hollister Airport and replace it with a new structure that could house up to 13 fledgling businesses.

“We’ve looked at it before and we’ve talked about it before and we believe that this would be good for the community,” Martinez said.

Under the proposal, people looking to start a new business could move into the one of the incubator’s 13 commercial spaces, which each measure 1,500 square feet.

Along with below-average rent, the incubator would provide all of the support services commonly found in larger businesses, including secretarial, shipping and copying services, Martinez said.

“This will help them achieve the goal of focusing on their businesses,” he said.

Martinez said the businesses should be able to grow so that within two to three years they could then move to another location in town and continue to expand.

Once a business graduates from the incubator, another fledgling business would move in and start the cycle over again.

“It’s a viable way to start new businesses that offers a place at a reasonable price and provides all the services possible,” Hollister City Manager George Lewis said.

City officials seem to be in agreement that the incubator is a good idea in principle, but the plan is hitting a snag, Councilman Robbie Scattini said.

“I don’t think the (Airport) Commission would go for it because there are still a lot of questions that have to be answered,” said Scattini, the Council’s newest member. “I think that it’s a good concept but that it is in the wrong place.”

Airport officials’ primary concern appears to be that businesses brought into the airport should primarily be aviation-related. Scattini, a former member of the Airport Commission and a private-plane owner, said no one has guaranteed that the project would bring in businesses to complement airport activity.

Building the incubator at the airport might also pose other problems.

“I’m not sure if the feds would allow this because this is a federally funded airport,” Scattini said.

Councilwoman Pauline Valdivia said the proposal, though intriguing, is still in too early a stage for any final decisions.

“It looks like a good concept but I think we need to see more information. Whether or not this will be at the airport is still up in the air,” Valdivia said. “Before we can decide on this, we really need to hear more from the EDC and the airport commission. I think it is important that we get their input on this.”

No matter where the city ultimately decides the incubator should go, Hollister Mayor Tony LoBue said he would be behind the idea.

“I’ve seen these incubators work up in the Silicon Valley,” LoBue said. “I’ve seen them spin off into some big businesses.”

He said the incubator would not solve all of the city’s needs for business growth but it would be a step in the right direction.

“I would definitely support a business incubator,” LoBue said. “I’m just not sure that the airport is the right place.”

Business incubators are not a new concept. The idea was conceived in the Ohio-Pennsylvania “Rust Belt” following the closure of many steel mills.

To spark economic growth, the federal government stepped in and repaired and remodeled a number of the abandoned buildings and offered the space and all the support they needed to people looking to start their own business.

The concept has since spread to other communities across the country. By 1985, approximately 12 states had incubator programs. By 1989, about 25 states had or were developing programs and in 1994, a total of 49 states had operating incubator businesses, according to statistics from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

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