Funds sought for expanded business incubator

TUPELO – The Renasant Center for IDEAs, built three years ago as the community’s sole business incubator, could soon double in size.
The Lee County Board of Supervisors and the Community Development Foundation announced Tuesday they’re seeking a $2.7 million grant to expand the facility.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration gave the two entities permission last week to apply for the money, which they would have to match dollar for dollar.
Awards likely will be announced by the end of September, said David Rumbarger, CDF’s president and CEO.
“Our hope is obviously to get the letter that says you have the $2.7 million,” Rumbarger told the Daily Journal. “That would be the big news. We’re just in the ‘hope and dream’ phase right now.”
EDA has awarded CDF and Lee County several grants in the past, including one for the first phase of the business incubator and those for all three county industrial parks.
“The county has a great history with EDA in all different eras,” Rumbarger said.
If the grant is awarded, plans call for a 24,300-square-foot facility to be built near the existing 31,180-square-foot incubator, which sits at Main and Elizabeth streets in downtown’s Fairpark District. CDF already owns the land for the proposed expansion.
The new building would have three floors and cost an estimated $5.4 million, but it hasn’t yet been designed.
CDF Chairman Chris Rogers said the expansion also would allow his organization to offer more services and resources to help new businesses grow.
The current business incubator opened in August 2006 and has helped launch 21 new enterprises and organizations. It also offers on-site business counseling, technical support, marketing assistance and networking, among other services.
Rumbarger said the facility has at times been fully occupied and last year had an average occupancy rate of 86 percent. He said CDF always has intened to expand, and efforts to do so began seriously in February.
Lee County Board of Supervisors President Tommie Lee Ivy praised the proposal but wasn’t immediately sure how the county would fund its portion of the matching grant.
“Right now we’ve got a tight budget and everything,” he said. “I don’t know where we stand right now. I don’t think we have to come up with the money immediately. We’re still looking at our next budget.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal