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Published: Monday, 2/2/2009

Bluffton looks to future with entrepreneur center

BY BART MILLS
LIMA NEWS

BLUFFTON - Even in the best of times, small businesses face big challenges. And it's no secret that these are nowhere near the best of times. Start-ups and wannabe entrepreneurs need all the help they can get, and Bluffton's business leaders have decided to offer that help.

Bluffton celebrated the new year with the launch of its new Bluffton Center for Entrepreneurs, a small-business incubator designed to support business owners with the hope they will survive, grow, and maybe someday become not-so-small businesses.

"The odds can work against them. Most small businesses fail within the first three years," said Jim Bauer, executive director of the new center. "Statistics say well over two-thirds of businesses fail within the first three years. They need that support,"

The idea of a business incubator has been kicked around among regional business leaders for more than a decade. Last year, a group of Bluffton's leaders got together and, led by retired industrialist Ropp Triplett, launched the center. They took over space in the former MidBus plant which they share with Colonial Surface Solutions.

"We want our kids to be able to live here and work here. We want jobs for our kids," said Fred Steiner, director of Bluffton's Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Bauer comes to the job with experience working with big and small businesses. Most of his career has been spent in the food business. While working for ConAgra in the late 1980s, he created the company's Healthy Choice line of foods. He went on to work with start-up companies and small businesses, helping them stay healthy and grow. That's exactly what he hopes to do in Bluffton.

Mr. Bauer said: "An awful lot of entrepreneurs with really great ideas and passion for those ideas just don't have the background to get started. What we are doing is providing a way for those entrepreneurs to launch their business from the ground up and giving them the tools and support to keep going."

The center offers an array of consulting and services based on the business's needs.

The office space is available for rent at reduced rates and can include copy, fax and scanning services, and warehouse, production, and distribution space with opportunities to sublet.

The center is funded locally by donations from Bluffton businesses and individuals.

"Now is a perfect time to be planning and putting together a business plan and getting everything together," Mr. Bauer said.

"As we come out of this slump, there's going to be tremendous pent-up demand for products and services. People are going to start opening their wallets again, and businesses need to be ready."



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