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Cottage Grove moves forward with small-business incubator

Cottage Grove City Council members last week OK'd an Economic Development Authority plan to remake the soon-to-be vacant Cottage Grove City Hall into a facility that city officials hope will help jump-start small businesses.

The council approved plans to convert the current city hall -- which will be emptied when administrative and public safety offices move to a new building this fall -- into what officials are calling a business accelerator, or incubator, that will provide low-cost office space to small, growing businesses looking to expand.

"It's a launching pad," said City Administrator Ryan Schroeder.

Under the plan approved last week, the city will transfer the building to the Cottage Grove EDA for $400,000. The city will then contract with a third-party who will lease office space to budding start-ups at $6 per square foot, a figure well below market value, officials say.

The accelerator is intended to temporarily bridge the gap between home-based business operations and full-blown office space. Schroeder said the city's goal is to break even -- not turn a profit -- with the venture. In turn, officials hope to lure businesses from inside and outside the city that will eventually rent space from private office buildings.

"We expect successful businesses to graduate to renting space, buying existing buildings, or building new in and around Cottage Grove," said EDA member Tony Jurgens in a statement from the city. "And that's how we'll judge success of the (business accelerator)."

The city will target biotechnology, software, electronics and instrumentation, medical devices and equipment, clean technology, healthcare services, IT services and marketing/advertising and telecommunications, officials say.

With the help of local lawmakers, Cottage Grove is seeking $50,000 in state-borrowed funding to help finance infrastructure upgrades to the building. Schroeder has said the city is looking to raise an additional $150,000 to cover the full cost of the improvements.