Fostering Growth

Posted on Oct 1, 2011 :: Economic Development
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Fond du Lac center helps businesses get to the next level

When Mike Morrissey came to Fond du Lac on a short-term assignment earlier this year for his job with a Wausau-based community redeveloper organization, he wasn’t sure at first where he would be able to work. Fortunately, he found the newly opened Center for Enterprise Development, which is housed at the Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corp. (FCEDC).

“It was ideal. The work space was quiet and just the right size and it was close to everything,” he says. “There was also onsite parking. It was an ideal office away from home.”

The Center was designed with entrepreneurs and professionals like Morrissey in mind. The Center opened about a year ago, providing businesses of all sizes with creative spaces filled with the latest technology to meet as well as available office space and access to a trained staff.

An individual or business can rent out space for a brainstorming session, client meeting or room to just sit

and work.

The Center is the only such facility created and operated by an economic development organization in Wisconsin, says Melissa Hunt, a community development specialist with FCEDC. She says the space was created in response to businesses’ needs.

“One of the biggest things I heard from clients – especially those in

rural areas – was that they didn’t

have access to high-speed Internet and were looking for a place where they could rent some short-term office space,” she says. “A lot of people who work out of their homes sometimes also just want to have another space where they can meet with clients or just somewhere different to work as a way to change things up.”

It’s not just small business owners and entrepreneurs who benefit from The Center, says Owen Rock, a business strategist with the FCEDC. He says larger companies are often looking for offsite meeting locations for brainstorming sessions. The Center’s space, which is filled with comfortable furniture that is easily moved around from space to space, along with its advanced technology, fits the bill.

The Center’s largest meeting space can hold up to 26 people and is equipped with a 77-inch interactive whiteboard and flat-screen TV. Free Wi-Fi flows throughout the building. “You’re not going to find a lot of places with this type of technology,” says Rock, pointing to the interactive whiteboard. “We’ve also heard from some companies they are cutting back on their technology updates and are looking for a place where they can still use those tools.”

The Center also has a video conferencing system in one of their smaller meeting rooms, which is equipped with toys, a chess table and a Wii system to help get those creative juices going. “Video conferencing is playing a more important role in many businesses and how they communicate,” Hunt says. “For example, you can use video conferencing to cut down on travel costs if you want to interview someone for a job.”

With its creative surroundings – jars of Play-Doh are stacked about along with squishy toys – the Center is a natural place for brainstorming sessions, Hunt says. “More businesses are using those types of sessions and you want to get out of your usual surroundings and this fits the bill,” she says.

A piece of the puzzle

When the FCEDC moved into its new offices more than a year ago, then-president Brenda Hicks-Sorensen wanted to take the opportunity to do more than just provide space for staff members. She wanted to find a way to help businesses. The Center – along with FCEDC’s Impact! Program, which supports local business growth by offering consulting and research services – does just that.

“This is really a business accelerator place where entrepreneurs can use some of our tools to take their business to the next level,” Hunt says.

The Center got off the ground thanks in part to a $30,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce via the Forward Innovation Fund.

Businesses using the Center, especially those that may rent the shared office space, have easy access to FCEDC’s staff. Rock says a computer in the room populated with research databases is especially helpful. “These are tools businesses might not find elsewhere and if they have a question, they can just come upstairs,” he says.

And if those questions go beyond the scope of what FCEDC’s staff can help with, Rock says referrals are then given to other appropriate resources like the Small Business Development Center housed at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

The Center also has enough room for workshops and presentations by experts, such as Bob O’Donnell from the Small Business Development Center. “We want to do all we can to help businesses become successful,” Hunt says.