14 apply for city incentive program

Princeton’s “It Starts Here” program has received 14 applications.

The program is a partnership of the Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce and the city and is designed to fill the city’s downtown vacant spots by running a competition that awards three grand prizes worth as much as $20,000 each. The city’s Economic Development Authority board will also have to sign off on the grand prize winners because of the monetary awards involved.

Those eligible would have to locate one of following in the city’s B-1 central business district: a new business, a second or third satellite business from an existing location in another town, or a significant expansion of a current downtown business that includes an additional business concept.

The original contest application deadline was Nov. 30, 2012. But after receiving only four applicants, the Business Acceleration Committee that is heading the program extended the deadline to January 31.

“I’m pumped that we got 14,” said Princeton Community Development Director Carie Fuhrman.

Chamber coordinator Mary Chapman revealed last year that one of the four applicants was Tim Sierks, who with his wife Mindi, owns and operates the Minuteman Press printing business in the downtown. Sierks told the Union-Eagle that he and Mindi are interested in renting a space that would house their printing business plus house an office supply store they would run.

After revealing that applicant, Chapman was told that the Business Acceleration Committee would not have any more applicant names released. Fuhrman told the Union-Eagle that she wouldn’t make any names public until a finalist applicant takes the step of applying for the grand prize incentive. She explained that this would come in a latter phase.

The incentive award that will go to a grand prize winner is in two parts. The first would be a $10,000 loan from the city, forgivable if the applicant meets certain conditions. The second part would be $10,000 worth of in-kind contributions to assist the business. Among those contributions would be free advertising in the Chamber’s Focus newsletter, some donated legal services from Berry Law Offices, and payroll training from Manke Business Services.

The $30,000 in forgivable loan money that the city is putting up comes out of surplus money in a tax increment fund that was set up nearly a decade ago to spur housing growth along a stretch of former railroad land in the city.

This coming September is the deadline for when the grand prize winners would have to establish their winning business concept. A date for announcing the grand prize winners has not yet been determined.

But the It Starts Here committee met with 11 of the 14 applicants on February 5 to review their concepts and had interviewed the other three applicants previously. During this review phase the applicants “pitched” their business concept to the committee and the committee then asked questions of the applicant.

The committee is scheduled to meet Feb. 19 to determine which of the 14 applicants will go on in the competition, meaning going into phase II. During phase II the narrowed list of applicants will have to present a formal business plan with details such as projections. The minimum number of employees that a grand prize winner would have to add is one. Fuhrman explained that the minimum number is small because the winner can be an existing business.

Applicants during the third and final phase of the program will have to give a final business pitch.

Fuhrman was asked if the Business Acceleration Committee had discussed how the applicants who are not chosen as grand prize winners will feel.

“We talked about that,” Fuhrman answered. She said the committee encourages those who are not grand prize winners to still consider carrying out the business plans they proposed. “We can’t award to all the applicants,” she said. “We will do our best to give assistance to them to get their business up and going.”