This space on the sixth-floor of the Sanford Clock Tower is planned to become the site of a new business incubator program in the city of Amsterdam. The city secured funding through the latest round of Regional Economic Develop Council funding. Photo by John Purcell/ Recorder Staff

By JOHN PURCELL
Recorder News Staff

Grant funding is laying the foundation for the Sanford Clock Tower to renovate its sixth floor to form a business incubator, which is envisioned to support budding ventures.

The city of Amsterdam was awarded $500,000 for the Sanford Clock Tower Renovation Project through the latest round of the state’s Regional Economic Develop Council funding.

The grant funding will be used to renovate the sixth floor of the historic building to start an incubator accelerator for new entrepreneurs and enterprises, according to Danielle Whelly, economic development specialist for the Montgomery County Business Development Center.

Whelly said in conjunction with the renovation project the city was also awarded $200,000, which will allow for the Amsterdam Microenterprise Program to provide support to new and existing businesses.

The incubator grant is specifically focused on renovating the Sanford Clock Tower. The microenterprise grant would be available to the city as a whole, but Whelly said it’s envisioned to complement activity surrounding the incubator.

“We applied for it in conjunction with the micro-enterprise grant in hopes that we could form a well-rounded program for entrepreneurs and business owners,” Whelly said. “The incubator will give us the physical space as well as the programming with the different resources we will be providing.”

Whelly said the incubator would provide startups and small businesses with “everything element they would need” to help get the businesses off the ground and grow. She said the program would work toward establishing Amsterdam as an entrepreneurial hub for the region.

Sanford Clock Tower co-owner Brett McCarthy said the idea of starting a business incubator had been discussed for several years. While the Sanford Clock Tower already caters toward helping startup and new businesses secure space, there is not a formalized incubator program.

Due to the large space of the building, McCarthy said there’s an ongoing search to find entrepreneurs starting businesses to locate in the Clock Tower and stay in the building.

“There was a lot of years of discussion of how to accomplish that with an incubator space that would get somebody to just start up immediately and then if the business takes off, have the ability to move to a permanent office space, and as the business grows, custom build a space,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said everything clicked in order to secure the grant, which isn’t necessarily an easy or common occurrence. McCarthy credited Whelly for working hard with him and fellow Clock Tower co-owner Terry Barker.

“A lot of people put a lot of work into it, the state came through and we actually were awarded a grant,” McCarthy said. “Normally all those stars don’t typically line up at the same time.”

McCarthy said he believes there is a need for the business incubator because there a lot people who are looking to start businesses locally.

He believes the city offers a lot of opportunity for people to start a business, but a lot of potential entrepreneurs do not have the experience or “know-how.” A key focus of the incubator is to embrace new entrepreneurs through mentorships and offering a supportive environment.

“I’ve owned my businesses for 20 years now and I can tell you it’s hard,” McCarthy said. “Learning it the hard way is really difficult and costly, so if you can get some advice and help in the beginning to keep your costs down, you have such a better opportunity at success.”

Whelly said the grant contract is still being negotiated between the city and the Sandford Clock Tower, so there is not a start date for construction or timeline on the process to date.

Whelly said the grant could fund up to 75 percent of the renovation project, so the clock tower would be required to cover at least 25 percent of the project. She said the match is still be negotiated, but the tower is estimated to provide 30 percent.

“The building itself is already kind of an accelerator incubator and we’re trying to capitalize on that,” Whelly said.

The grant is primarily to renovate the sixth and possibly fifth floors of the building, according to McCarthy. These are the two remaining floors of the six story building that are not operational to date.

The business incubator will possibly be in the front corner of the sixth-floor. There are several office spaces on the floor that Coleco Industries had built, which McCarthy said require a lot of cosmetic work primarily. There would also be several standalone offices on the floor.

“It’s a very cool space up there,” McCarthy said.

There would be a receptionist for all of the businesses located on the sixth floor, with a common waiting area, conference room and meetings rooms.

There would also be larger offices on the sixth floor outside of the incubator area. McCarthy said ideally, there would be a “good mixture” between existing businesses attracted to the site and new businesses from the incubator expanding into an office.

McCarthy said the types of businesses the larger offices will be marketed toward would be to help support new ventures, such as lawyers and accountants. He said these professionals could also be offered a discount on their rent in exchange for offering mentoring or assistance to businesses in the incubator.

Prior to applying for the funding, Whelly said there were talks with Fulton-Montgomery Community College about starting a mentorship program or holding workshops. She said local officials recently met with the Small Business Administration to discuss linking up to offer similar programs or mentorships.