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Lockport tries to nurture start-up businesses at city-owned space

Program has had mixed results

Published: Monday, March 3, 2014 10:31 p.m. CST
Caption
(Lathan Goumas – lathangoumas@shawmedia.com)
Safe Cove Counseling marketing manager Anita Lewis-Schmoll (left), administrator George Schmoll (right), secretary Diane Adamore-Johnson (lower center) and counselor Linda Weyer (top center) pose for a portrait in the business' future home at the old train station in Lockport.

LOCKPORT – City officials have been doing more to bring businesses to Lockport – they’ve been trying to incubate them.

Since 2011, the city has run a business incubator program to attract entrepreneurs to city-owned vacant space at the Lockport Train Station and the old City Hall. The city provides building space to reduce overhead and operational costs for the startup businesses.

“We wanted to encourage small businesses and entrepreneurs to grow,” said Tim Schloneger, a former Lockport city administrator who became the Algonquin village manager last year.

The program is considered part of the mix in attracting new business to Lockport.

Unfortunately, some businesses that have used the program, such as the Conservatory of Music and Spiral Sky, have not lasted long. And, the only occupants now at the City Hall building, 921 S. State St., are the Lockport Police Commission Board and the Lockport Area Chamber of Commerce.

But the program has provided a location for Safe Cove Counseling, a drug rehabilitation program approved in February for the Lockport Train Station.

Even with the setbacks the incubator program has faced, business is growing in Lockport, City Administrator Ben Benson said.

“We’re in a position where we can be selective,” Benson said. “We’re looking at what’s right.”

Benson said the town has several areas, such as the transportation corridor between the downtown area and I-355, that will attract more businesses, along with the development of Lockport Square, which he said should be a huge area for shopping. 

Currently, city officials look to welcome a new bakery, as well as a meat and manufacturing company.

“Every little corner of Lockport we’re getting new growth, and that’s a good thing,” he said. 

When the incubator program started, it was looking to give start-up companies free space for a year. When the small businesses would graduate from the program, the company would have to move elsewhere in the city to ensure a cycle of innovation and business creation.

The businesses would need to be three years old or younger, with a viable business concept and the likelihood it would grow into a sustainable company that would be able to survive without the incubator program. It also would intend to remain in Lockport after graduating from the program.

Those spaces offered in the program lent themselves more to nonprofits, Benson said. No funding has been allocated and it’s not a burden on taxpayers since it’s city-owned space.

The Lockport Train Station at 133 W. 13th St. will become the new home of Safe Cove Counseling.

The organization seeks to offer counseling sessions for recovering addicts and requires them to keep a daily log book. Anita Lewis-Schmoll is one of the counselors on the staff.

Third Ward Alderman Jason VanderMeer is an accountant for Safe Cove.

The space has been approved for use by the city. Lewis-Schmoll said the organization still needs to complete the lease agreement and obtain a nonprofit status.

The incubator program still influences city officials to give businesses open spaces to grow whenever the opportunity arises, Benson said.

“We’re kind of modeling that going forward,” Benson said. “If we have an opportunity to give people those spaces, we will do so.” 

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