Renovation has begun for Region 10’s new Entrepreneurial Business Resource Center, at a location once home to the Boys and Girls Club. The Olathe-based project is on pace to open in March next year.
Job creation and entrepreneurial support is at the heart of this new $1.2 million center, located at 300 Hap Court. The building is owned by the Montrose County Housing Authority and leased by Region 10, but supported by at least 10 regional partners.
“This project will provide much needed resources for those interested in starting a new business. Think of it as a one-stop shop for our entire region,” said Montrose County Commissioner Sue Hansen in a Nov. 14 news release from Region 10. Hansen is also a member of the nonprofit’s project steering committee.
“It is a worthy investment for Montrose County, and I am excited to see the Entrepreneurial Center completed and filled with entrepreneurs ready to build and expand their businesses.”
Region 10 completed asbestos removal on the building over the summer and has now moved forward with construction, according to Region 10’s new program manager, Ann Bradford.
Since joining the nonprofit in August, her focus has been on creating the Entrepreneurial Program while building regional programs with Gunnison, Hinsdale, Ouray and San Miguel Counties.
The project’s success relies on multiple regional partnerships and securement of a highly competitive $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this year.
“There’s really a spirit of sole proprietorship and a lot of independence,” Bradford said. “We feel like entrepreneurship will be successful in this region.”
Pandemic era sees boom in small businesses
This observation parallels the trend of new businesses popping up in Montrose County, per a quarterly economic update by Nathan Perry, an associate professor of economics at Colorado Mesa University.
Montrose had nearly 710 new business filings as of July 31, a 35.5% increase from July 2021. Perry reported 530 new business filings by the end of 2020’s second quarter — a 14.5% increase from 2019’s second quarter.
But Bradford considers the pandemic as simply another stimulator in entrepreneurial growth. She finds that many people are interested in becoming entrepreneurs, but they can’t quite figure out how to do it.
“When things shut down for COVID, and particularly among women who had to stay home with children, one of the most natural things was to try to find some way to do a food business,” Bradford said of the small business boom. She added that people need help from community, networking and resources.
“I think it’s happening broadly and I think it’s happening post-COVID, but I think it’s an important trend anyhow because small business has always been big in America, and I think people are just kind of coming back to that.”
Region 10 cited data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its recent community update — small businesses accounted for 66% of employment growth over the past 25 years. Recent population growth, workforce enrichment and a “strong local broadband network” is also credited for improving business growth in the region.
Combined, these factors posit the question: What would happen if entrepreneurs had the resources they needed?
Which is where the Olathe center comes in, Bradford answered. The center would provide entrepreneurs with finance training and help them generate ideas on how to find financing for a new business.
What will the new center offer small business owners?
Bradford envisions a diverse range of people using the new space.
The center would support budding and existing entrepreneurs in all industry sectors, from a business incubator providing technical assistance, training, coaching, a conference room and a co-working space. The center’s newly renovated commercial kitchen and space for pop-up restaurants is one of its most anticipated features, according to Bradford.
“Commercial kitchens are very hard to find in this area and if you are a small food business, you can’t operate out of your home,” she said. “You have to have a commercial kitchen unless you’re just going to sell at a farmers market and then you can do some preparation at home, but there’s a real shortage of space.
A kitchen-incubator program will take cohorts through a six-to-eight week class to learn how to mass produce products and get them on store shelves.
There will also be access to the regional Business Loan Fund and Small Business Development Center, which are part of Region 10.
Leadership training and development programs will be offered, such as Demystifying Entrepreneurship from the Leeds Business School at the University of Colorado and the FastTrac startup business curriculum from the Kauffman Foundation.
Training will be available in English and Spanish.
A 3D printer and makerspace are expected to be included in the renovated space.
Annual programming will be available for mentorship or for businesses to develop their ideas. Bradford said the nonprofit hopes to add food truck plugins in the future.
“We’re envisioning a lot of different things down the road,” Bradford said. “We will be trying to find whatever resources they’re looking for because our idea is to help everybody that we can.”
Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.