By DAVID BORAKS
Davidson’s Town Board on Tuesday approved an agreement to participate in a public-private business incubator project that aims to foster the development of “green” businesses and jobs in town.
Also Tuesday, the board also approved a positive review of the 2008-2009 budget from its auditors, Tinsley & Terry, and voted to extend its lease with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools for use of the Ada Jenkins Center, on Gamble Street.
‘GREEN’ BIZ INCUBATOR
The incubator – called the Project for Innovation, Energy and Sustainability – is a partnership of the town and Rose & Associates, a local economic development consultancy led by Kathleen Rose. It also has a board of business and technical experts. (See a December press release announcing the project, “Town, partners start a ‘green’ business incubator.”) It’s formation comes as part of the town’s ongoing efforts to promote commercial development, and re-balance its tax base away from a heavy reliance on residential property taxes.
The agreement approved Tuesday is technically a memorandum of understanding, which paints a broad outline for how the partnership would work. It calls for the town to work with Ms. Rose to encourage local energy-related and “green” business start-ups. Ms. Rose told Town Board members it would be followed by additional formal agreements.
Ms. Rose has already formed the incubator and signed up a variety of experts. Start-up companies accepted into the program would be housed in reduced-rent office space at the Business Center @ South Main, which Ms. Rose owns through another company, Urban Organic I LLC.
Part of the incubator partnership calls for the town to sign a “master lease” to help pay for the space. Some board members had reservations about that arrangement Tuesday, especially after Town Manager Leamon Brice told them the town likely will have to provide additional funding – up to $20,000 over 1-year in a “worst case” scenario, he said – to pay for the office space.
Mr. Brice had said he originally thought a grant through the state’s Main Street Program would help pay for the space, but he learned last week it does not. That leaves the town to come up with the additional funding. He told the board the town could raise the money through a second grant – through the North Carolina Green Business Fund – that would help cover operating costs of the incubator.
That grant application is due next week, and requires the town to be formally engaged in a public private partnership like the incubator. Some Town Board members expressed reservations about possibly having to spend $20,000 on the office space at a time when town revenues remain down. Nonetheless, the board voted 5-0 to approve the memorandum – with the understanding that the town may not be able to follow through on paying for the office space.
The vote gives the town staff the go-ahead to apply for the second grant.
Last week, the state of North Carolina announced that it had award the town and Urban Organics a $13,767 grant through its Main Street Program to make energy-related improvements at the Business Center as part of the project. The $13,767 grant will go to a partnership of the town and Urban Organic I LLC, to achieve EPA Energy Star certification of the Business Center @ South Main Square. Urban Organic also will provide matching funds. The project will replace manual thermostats with electronic programmable ones, and replace an existing enthalpy controller with a new electronic controller, which is expected to save $750 annually.
Meanwhile, Ms. Rose said at Tuesday’s meeting that the incubator project already has attracted interest from potential start-ups as well as from other area business development groups.
BEAVER DAM CONTRACT
Also Tuesday, the board voted to authorizing the town manager to negotiate final details of a contract with Armin’s Catering for management of Beaver Dam park, off Davidson-Concord Road. Davidson College owns the park and the historic Davidson family home on it. Several years ago, the college agreed to lease the property to the town.
The town manager said he had expected a final vote Tuesday night, but he was awaiting comments on the contract from Davidson College. Still to be hammered out is a schedule under which Armin’s Catering will pay the town a portion of the proceeds from catering events at Beaver Dam, the town manager said.
Alan Hall, the general manager of the town-owned MI-Connection cable system, gave town board members a financial and operations report. Among the headlines: The system has seen a continued decline in customer relationships since the July 1 start of the fiscal year. Mr. Hall said that was primarily due to the loss of 81 customers at a Mooresville apartment complex whose managers decided to sign a nationwide contract for cable TV services with Time Warner Cable.
Mr. Hall also said operating revenues in November were $1.34 million, up about 9 percent from the same point a year ago. The system’s biggest success right now remains the addition of new services to existing customers. As cable TV subscribers added telephone and internet services, the average revenue per customer continued to climb, from $77.82 to $87.90 per customer per month, he said.
The MI-Connection board, which includes representatives from Davidson and Mooresville, will meet later this month.
STUDY – WHERE CUSTOMERS COME FROM
Tripp Muldrow, of the town’s marketing consultant Arnett Muldrow, presented findings from a Zip code study of the town’s commercial areas. The study is part of an effort by the town to meet one of its primary goals – downtown development.
The study this fall asked businesses to keep track of customers’ Zip codes for several weeks. The firm plans to use the results as it helps Davidson develop a marketing plan for downtown.
Arnett Muldrow, of Greenville, S.C., will use the information to help the town develop a new marketing plan. The consultants will be back in February for followup meetings and to make recommendations to the town.
The survey found that 35.4 percent or more than one-third of shoppers at local businesses are from Davidson. Another 6.6 percent are from Davidson College. Mr. Muldrow said that shows local retailers that “if you’re not catering to the local market, you’re in dangerous territory.”
Nonetheless, a large number of shoppers and diners at local businesses also come from surrounding towns. And he said the town has an oppportunity to develop itself as a “niche retail” location – for specialty shops that can’t be found elsewhere. The town has a strength in dining as well.
Mr. Muldrow told commissioners Tuesday night that the town probably should not pursue chain department stores or discounters. “I wouldn’t be developing a policy of recruitment for chain stores. … We are after that independent unique business that’s going to play well here,” he said.
He was asked if the drawing card for Davidson was its quaint, small town setting. He said that’s important, but not the main attraction. “From a retail standpoint, what you offer is ‘different.’ The setting is a value added on top of that,” he said.
Arnett Muldrow’s consultants will be back in Davidson Feb. 16 for presentations on branding and marketing strategies.
The board unanimously approved several items on its consent agenda, which includes items that may have been discussed previously but require no additional public discussion. The board also approved:
- The audit report by Tinsley & Terry. In a presentation earlier in the meeting, the firm’s Clare Meyer told the board the town earned the firm’s highest rating, an “unqualified” opinion. She said there were “no reportable findings” in the audit and commended the town for its budget adjustments last year to deal with the financial slowdown.
- A 2009 tax refund of $88.45 to Ricoh Americas and Elrod Custom Homes.
- Personnel Policy amendments: One related to salary changes for an employee filling an interim position and the other regarding injured employees who cannot carry out duties.
- A renewed $1 a year lease between the town and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools for use of Ada Jenkins Center on Gamble Street. The building operates as an umbrellas community services center serving people from throughout the north Mecklenbur/south Iredell region.
- An amended and restate contract with Community Housing Partners to allow the affordable housing group to apply for a grant instead of tax credits to make improvements at Oakhill Apartments on Beaty Street.
(Update Feb. 8, 2010: Minutes of the Jan. 12, 2010, meeting (PDF), CLICK HERE>