Weather Forecast


Updates proposed for Business Enterprise Center

Gophermods store manager Miguel Montano helps a customer with an electronic issue Monday. The Cottage Grove store, located in the city's BEC, opened in May. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)

The new business model the city of Cottage Grove has been working on since 2012 is starting to take shape as tenants begin setting up shop in the Business Enterprise Center.

Located in the former City Hall building on 80th Street, the BEC is a city owned and independently managed space for small businesses. The intent is to offer workspace at a discounted rate and support services to get local entrepreneurial ventures off the ground.

Economic Development Director Danette Parr said in an interview the city's vision for the BEC is both progressive and long term. With the digital repair company GopherMods currently operating and several more businesses set to open their doors later this summer, all talk has turned to aesthetics.

"We want to create an engaging, creative space to draw people in so they will want to use it," said Vicki Kotsonas, designer with Archimea Interior Design Service, during a recent Economic Development Authority meeting.

Earlier this month, the EDA toured the gutted BEC and brainstormed ideas for a revamped, modern business incubator. A shell of the former City Hall is visible, however Parr said tenant space is not updated ahead of establishing who the tenant will be.

"We want these spaces to be conducive to the needs of our tenants and to be cost effective," she said. "Thus, it's an ongoing, long-term activity."

Kotsonas presented members of the EDA with various design options for suite layouts, office furniture, even lighting and window fixtures, saying "we want to use flexible furniture so these spaces can be easily reconfigured."

The current floor plan depicts three suites on the upper level of the BEC, all which come equipped with several offices, restrooms and a common area.

First tenants

Gophermods currently is the sole operating occupant of the BEC. Its space is on the upper level, where the former community development department was located.

Since starting the company in 2008, founder Casey Profita turned his University of Minnesota dorm room venture into a now two-store operation with highly skilled cellphone, game system and computer technicians on his payroll. The repair company expanded from its southeast Minneapolis location to the 800-square-foot space in the BEC in May and the Cottage Grove branch manager Miguel Montano said he has seen business pick up.

"The company was looking for a place to expand in order to keep up with competitors and we knew we wanted to stay in the Midwest," Montano said. "We saw a lot of business coming from this area so we looked into the east metro."

During the first month of its residency, Montano said business at Gophermods has been steady with anywhere from five to 10 customers dropping off products that need repair.

"As soon as we updated the information online business came in," he added.

Occupying office space down the hall near the former council chambers will be ConexSpace and Premier Biotech Labs, LLC.

Reconfiguring the former finance department, ConexSpace has begun installing new doors and office furniture to get its sound continuation business off the ground. The starter business specializes in acoustics, white noise, home automation and other speech technologies.

Premier Biotech Labs, specializing in testing and selling medical supplies, has begun installing new HVAC systems for their partially clean laboratory.

The former council chambers, which has yet to find a tenant, will most likely become a training room, Parr said.

"We have an additional business that we anticipate will be signing a lease on the main level and after that takes place, we'll be left with a limited amount of square footage available on the main level," Parr added.

The tenant would take up some space in the BEC's basement, which was the former law enforcement center, in the sally port and booking room.

Another potential tenant is also looking at relocating in the basement and would likely occupy the command center and police department area of the lower level. Parr declined to name the two potential users citing pending lease signings.

Another aspect of the BEC that she said offers starter businesses a leg up is a variety of support services.

"In talking with other business incubators (and) accelerators, one thing is clear: these new businesses know their stuff and are good at what they do in relation to their specialty, technologies, et cetera," Parr said. "However, they may benefit from being part of the BEC community and having opportunities to learn more about are things outside their specialty."

Opportunities such as training in finance and accounting practices, government regulations, business operations and providing mentorship programs and network opportunities are what Parr said help foster a nurturing environment.

While the city contemplates the long term vision for the BEC, Parr said a preliminary budget will be presented to the Cottage Grove City Council during its upcoming regular meeting August 14. The money, Parr added, does not come from the city's general budget, but rather the project is funded by the tenants through rent, grants and sponsorships.

"It's all about the long-term potential of these businesses and supporting them to encourage their growth and have them become partners in our business community," Parr said. "Many business accelerator tenants come from people's basements and garages. The idea is to get them in an environment where they can take the next step."