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Cottage Grove Business Enterprise Center occupancy grows

Since opening its doors in March to hopeful new entrepreneurs, the Business Enterprise Center in Cottage Grove has steadily attracted tenants offering a variety of services.

Located in the former City Hall, the BEC provides business owners with an opportunity to grow their venture in space leased for less than typical commercial rates. They also have access to a variety of business networking and creative tools.

From cellular phone repair and energy-saving products to clean laboratory testing, the BEC’s incubator model is helping novice business owners transition into the professional industry.

Now nine months into its first year, City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said recently that roughly 35 percent of the building’s leasable square footage, which is around 18,000 square feet, is rented.

“We are at about where we expected to be right now,” he said.

Earlier this summer, the cellphone and electronic repair company Gophermods moved into the roughly 800-square-foot space that formerly housed the Community Development Department. Looking to expand his business to two locations, founder Casey Profita, a University of Minnesota student, moved into the BEC.

Gophermods was started in 2008 out of Profita’s dorm room and also has a location in southeast Minneapolis. Since then, Miguel Montano, manager of the Cottage Grove location, said it continues to attract more clients.

Connex Space, a local start-up specializing in sound-masking materials and office furniture, also took advantage of the BEC’s incubator model and currently occupies roughly 1,000 square feet in the city’s former Finance Department.

Both tenants, Economic Development Director Danette Parr said earlier this year, have agreed on a rent of only $6 per square foot, in an attempt, she said to allow each to grow.

Premier Biotech Labs, the BEC’s third tenant, specializes in testing and selling medical supplies. The partially clean laboratory required an HVAC system overhaul in the space located across from the former Council Chambers.

In August, the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce became the BEC’s fourth tenant, a partnership the city said will help add business-minded expertise to the mix.

“We’re hoping the Chamber of Commerce will help us foster the business atmosphere,” Parr said earlier this year. “I think there are a lot of parallels to what they do and our business model at the BEC.”

The Chamber, which made the move from the Youth Service Bureau last month, occupies around 550 square feet in the lower level, formerly the police sergeants office and communications center.

Because it is not what Parr called a “typical” tenant, it pays full rent to occupy its lower level space and also participates in lunch-and-learns and networking events geared toward promoting the current tenants.

Most recently, the BEC’s fifth tenant opened up shop, providing area residents with solar and green technologies for both residential and commercial. Renew Solar started after owner Gabe Schoer became fascinated with the technology and found limited resources in the area.

Renew Solar occupies 350 square feet in the lower level and is marketed as a one-stop shop for energy conservation products in the Cottage Grove area.

Reconfiguration and updates to the BEC continue to occur, Schroeder said.

Recently the former City Council chambers, which will be used as a training room, was updated with three windows.

“The only thing remaining is a little bit of electrical work and delivery of furniture,” Schroeder said.

By the end of the week, video equipment should be installed, he added.

The lower level bathrooms, which were reconstructed earlier this summer, are now fully functioning. The old configuration made them inaccessible to the Chamber and other potential tenants in the lower level.

The city-owned property is independently managed by Tapestry Management, who continues to help the city secure tenants.

The city is currently in talks with several potential tenants looking to occupy space in the lower level.

“We are working with a company that, if they gain their funding, which is expected by the end of the month, there is interest in space between 500 and 1,000 square feet,” Schroeder said.

Another potential tenant the city is talking with has expressed interest in roughly 2,500 square feet of space Schroeder said was “difficult to lease.”

“However, that tenant needs air handling upgrades that we don’t have, which is expensive.”

Schroeder declined to say who the potential tenants were.

The city is also in the process of installing another cell phone antenna on top of the BEC and plans to contract with Verizon Wireless, who will rent out a small room in t he BEC.

Economic Development Technician Mace Wescott added that several new locks are being installed and that the city has gone out for bids for the installation of emergency lighting.

An open house at the BEC is scheduled from 3-6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22. Business owners and the public are encouraged to attend.