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Making room to grow Twin Ports businesses

Although it helped launch businesses ranging the gamut from restaurants and publications to manufacturing, the Superior Business Center keeps a low profile.

Superior Business Center
The Superior Business Center, 1423 N. Eight St., encompasses 45,000 square feet of office, warehouse and even a USDA-certified commercial kitchen to help businesses get a start in Superior. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Although it helped launch businesses ranging the gamut from restaurants and publications to manufacturing, the Superior Business Center keeps a low profile.

"The facility is unknown to most citizens," said Norman Bayard of Superior, who recently wrote a letter to the editor about the site.

The business incubator, 1423 N. Eighth St., encompasses 45,000 square feet -- from offices and warehouse space to a USDA certified commercial kitchen and unique aquaculture environment. It currently houses 11 startup and expansion businesses employing about 50. Its graduate list is impressive, including Business North, Northern Waters Smokehaus and Exodus Machines. FedEx Ground graduated out of the Superior Business Center in 2007 and now employs 50 at its new building in the Vinje Industrial Park.

Exodus began leasing 420 square feet of office space at the SBC in May of 2008. A year later, they graduated into a 32,000 square foot facility located on Connors Point.

"They hired an engineering staff to begin designing the machines," said Michelle McKercher, assistant director of the Development Association. "They used office space strictly for engineering." By the time they moved into their new building, she said, they had three machines on order.

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"The main purpose of the business center is to have companies like that start and go out into the community," McKercher said.

Arlene Coco Buscombe let her catering business percolate at the SBC for two years before leaving to found Coco's to Geaux restaurant in Duluth. Recently, she returned to the incubator to make scones and other products through her new business, Prairie Kitchen Specialty Foods. The main benefit of the space is the reduced risk.

"You can see if your business will make it or not," Buscombe said, without a lot of overhead.

The incubator is owned by the city of Superior and Douglas County, and managed by the Development Association.

"We provide technical assistance to help (business owners) in their venture," McKercher said. "Obviously, we want them to be successful."

As more and more people are getting laid off, she said, the SBC is a place for entrepreneurs to turn their hobbies or ideas into a small business.

"It's a unique opportunity for some," McKercher said.

Rent at the SBC ranges from $8 to $15 per square foot. The SBC also provides office support -- shared equipment such as a fax machine and copier, and shared secretarial and receptionist services. It is intended to be an incubator, and not all businesses are right for the site.

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"We're looking for job creation, job retention," McKercher said.

And, said Buscombe, it has to be the right product, the right mix to fit into the shared space.

"The downside to the location is there's no public access," she said. "You can't sell out of it."

Having a business plan in place will help prospective tenants know if the site is right for them, Buscombe said.

"We like them to have an outline of their business plan," McKercher agreed.

"It gives them an idea where they need to be, a roadmap to success," she said.

She encourages entrepreneurs to take a course through the University of Wisconsin-Superior Small Business Development Center or Northeast Entrepreneur Fund to develop their business plan. Once the plan is on paper, a lease agreement can be put together.

McKercher also works with other building owners to find spaces for businesses and encourages businesses that are already located in another building to stay where they are.

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"We consider this a landlord of last resort," McKercher said.

Four years ago, the SBC was the right fit for Keith Richmond's new business, I H S Door Company, which manufactures doors out of 90 percent pre-consumer recycled fiber, or sawdust residue. The incubator had a better location and better facility than other spots he considered.

"And Superior seemed a lot more attractive than Duluth." Richmond said.

"There was much greater sense of interest in small business."

With up to eight employees, depending on demand, and the ability to turn out up to 600 doors a week, the business owner is looking at maybe renting more space at the SBC.

"We keep adding customers," Richmond said, with recent shipments to first-time customers in New York and Bismarck, N.D.

He encouraged others to check out what's available at the SBC -- including the newly carpeted offices.

"They have space available," he said. "Call Michelle."

McKercher can be reached at (715) 392-4749 or mckercherm@developmentassociation.com .

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Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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