Latrobe readies business incubator
The Latrobe Community Revitalization Program is tapping federal funds to help local businesses get off the ground at a new small business incubator to be housed in the Quatrini-Rafferty Building, 816 Ligonier St.
Executive Director Jarod Trunzo announced this week that the Revitalization Program has been awarded $87,000 from the Department of Agriculture's Rural Business Enterprise Grant program, which will be supplemented by $31,000 in the Latrobe organization's locally sourced funds to develop and operate the incubator.
Known as the Center for Entrepreneurship and Job Development, it will occupy the third floor of the building, currently vacant, with eight individual offices and two bathrooms — being readied with fresh paint and new carpeting.
“We know it's a general need in our town,” Trunzo said of the incubator. “We've had strong interest already.”
According to Trunzo, the grant caps three years of planning for the incubator, which will be equipped with computer and office equipment and will be virtually rent-free for approved tenants.
He said startup entrepreneurs would be asked to make a down payment toward their spaces, which would be returned if they make a good-faith effort to move to another downtown Latrobe site after staying in the incubator for about nine months.
“They'll have a modern office set-up where they can start planning and looking to grow their business right off the bat,” Trunzo said. “The focus at the end of the day is job retention and job creation.”
According to Trunzo, space in the incubator also will be available to established businesses that may be looking to spin off a new enterprise. To help incubator tenants succeed, the Revitalization Program is partnering with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at nearby St. Vincent College and plans to offer webinars and videoconferencing with industry strategists.
James Kunkel, executive director of the local SBDC, said it plans to have a consultant on hand at the incubator once a week to offer services to tenants, prospective entrepreneurs and other local small businesses with no more than 500 employees.
“We offer no-fee, confidential management assistance services,” he explained. “The lions share would be helping with business plans and market research.”
Trunzo cited statistics indicating 87 percent of startup businesses that get a helping hand in an incubator go on to long-term success. Overall, just half of new businesses survive at least five years, according to the Small Business Administration.
“What happens in any incubator model is you have not just the physical space but all of the shared services and enhanced mentoring,” Kunkel said. “You have other entrepreneurs on site, and this great cross-pollination of thoughts and ideas and advice generates a level of enthusiasm and excitement.”
Trunzo said about seven vacant storefronts are waiting to be filled in Latrobe's core downtown district. If incubator tenants are developing a proprietary product or are working in the technology field and stay in downtown Latrobe, they could be eligible for tax credits under the city's Keystone Innovation Zone program, he noted.
“I think it's another example of the vitality of the Latrobe area business community and an opportunity for that vitality to grow even more,” Don Orlando, chairman of the Latrobe-Laurel Valley Community Chamber of Commerce, said of the incubator.
Trunzo told city council Monday that successful incubator applicants will need to pass credit checks and live up to standards for a drug-free, professional working environment.
Prospective tenants soon will be able to find application forms at latroberevitalization.org. Trunzo said applications should be accepted beginning Sept. 15.