‘Business incubation center’ hatching faster than anticipated

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
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“It doesn’t seem like it’s been a year; it seems like weeks,” Tom Elbert told the Little Falls City Council Tuesday.

Last year, the city, the city’s Economic Development Authority and Community Development of Morrison County invested in Elbert and his intent to purchase the former Crestliner building to turn it into what he calls “A business incubator center.”

An investment of $400,000 was made and Elbert bought the building shortly after Crestliner announced it was moving its production to New York Mills, and along with it, the manufacturing jobs.

Cathy VanRisseghem, left, the mayor of Little Falls, accepted a $100,000 check from Tom Elbert. It was an advance payment for the $200,000 the city invested in the Little Falls Manufacturing Development Center last year.

The investment is paying off, Elbert said.

“I’m very pleased with the results of turning over the Crestliner building to a business incubator center,” he said.

Elbert’s facility, the Little Falls Manufacturing Development Center, is now home to 14 tenants, in either the manufacturing or service industry. A 15th tenant will be moving in within two months, and two or three more are on the way.

Elbert said the center was doing better than he anticipated with a 50 percent to 55 percent tenant capacity — something he projected wouldn’t happen until 2013.

He credited Carol Anderson of Community Development of Morrison County, the City Council and members of the city as well, including the Chamber of Commerce for the success.

“The reason we’re so full has a lot to do with Carol and a lot of people in the city,” Elbert said. “It’s been a good city to work with.”

Elbert said, “For that reason, because we filled up, we’ve been able to put together some permanent financing on the building.”

That permanent financing allowed Elbert to present the city with a check for $100,000, an advance payment on the $200,000 the city invested.

Little Falls Manufacturing Development Center offers its tenants more than “space.”

“We offer things like shared forklifts, shared equipment, low cost phone and Internet,” said Elbert. “What we’re trying to do is make it so a business just has to worry about their business.”

All those things a business may not want to deal with such as maintenance, are taken care of, said Elbert.

“We help them out with other things as well,” he said.

Then, too, Elbert said the businesses work with one another.

“It turns into more of a community, and a lot of the tenants help each other — they will actually work with each other to solve their problems,” he said.

The capacity for the Little Falls Manufacturing Development Center can vary, depending upon the amount of space each tenant needs.

“I thought I would have about 30 tenants, but sometimes you get huge tenants, some smaller. It could be there will be 50 tenants by the time I’m done,” he said.

Some of his tenants are renting extra space to complement an existing business, such as Polar Tank or Goldeneye Solutions. Even Crestliner rents space for service and warranty work for Crest-liner boats.

Elbert, a real estate developer from River Falls, Wis., has several similar facilities.

It was the facility in River Falls that Anderson and several others from Little Falls visited before deciding to invest in Elbert’s vision for a facility in Little Falls.