Owatonna Business Incubator celebrates 25th anniversary - Owatonna MN: News

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Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2013 5:00 pm | Updated: 8:38 pm, Thu Oct 3, 2013.

OWATONNA — Over the last quarter of a century, nearly 50 small businesses in the Owatonna area got their start or received assistance thanks to one organization.

On Thursday afternoon, representatives from many of those business turned out to say thank you and share stories of the Owatonna Business Incubator.

The incubator, which was formed in 1988, celebrated its 25th anniversary on Thursday with dozens of business leaders, community leaders and past occupants in attendance. Doug Johnson, current executive director for the incubator, was thankful for all those in attendance, adding that there is currently space available to help a business looking to get its start.

“I’d like to have you take a look around at the vast space that is available to lease to an entrepreneur or an existing business looking to grow,” Johnson said. “I need your help finding those entrepreneurs and business opportunities. We want to start filling this facility back up.”

Tim Penny, who is currently president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, was a U.S. Congressman when the incubator got its start.

“I came to tour the incubator when it started out at the Oakdale Mall (in 1989),” Penny said. “To my knowledge it was the first incubator that had been created in our part of the state.”

Helping start-up companies is an important aspect of what Penny does now as the leader of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. He said while there is ebb and flow when looking at how many Steele County business are helped by the foundation every year, the foundation has had a hand in helping some get their start.

“In some years, there are more dots in Steele County than in other years, but we’re a small foundation and we’re trying to reach across the entire region,” Penny said. “Most of the jobs that we’ve had in Steele County in recent years have been business start-up loans or business expansion loans, like Advantage Cabinets in Owatonna or BioPlastic Solutions in Blooming Prairie.”

The foundation also helped finance the construction of the current incubator facility, which was completed in 1998.

The incubator had humble beginnings in Owatonna, operating out of the Oakdale Mall in 1989 before moving to Merrill Hall on the West Hills Complex in 1990. There were three tenants during that first year, one of which was Concepts and Designs, Inc.

Tom Peterson, president and CEO of Concepts and Designs, said he recently participated in a panel and was asked when you lose “the fear” as a business leader.

“We don’t ... We replace the fear with faith,” Peterson said. “We believe that we have certain God-given talents and skills and then we put those to good work.”

Peterson’s company was the first to graduate from the incubator. When Concepts and Designs began, there were three or four employees. Now, Peterson said they have about 90 employees.

The last member of Wednesday’s panel was Steve Kath, CEO and Founder of Retrofit Companies in Owatonna. When his company was operating out of Merrill Hall, the offices were on the third floor and their storage space was on the ground floor.

“I was in much better shape back then, going up and down three flights of stairs 15 times a day,” Kath joked. “We kind of outgrew that space. Thankfully our business was fairly successful.”

Kath’s business was involved with the incubator for 15 months. All in all, 41 companies have been tenants with the incubator and eight more have had short-term rentals.

“We want to thank the community of Owatonna for being very supportive of our company, and also the incubator for a great start,” Kath said. “It allowed us to get our feet on the ground before we had to get out on our own and do the real hard work. All of that is a blessing for us.”

Reach reporter Al Strain at 444-2376 or follow him on Twitter.com@OPPalstrain

© 2014 Southernminn.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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