DANVILLE — Merck and Bucknell's Small Business Development Center will create an incubator for new businesses and students to learn about entrepreneurship in Danville.
The incubator, modeled after a Lewisburg-based incubator, will be known as Startup Danville, said DRIVE Board Chairman Dennis Hummer during the Montour County economic development organization's annual meeting Wednesday. Hummer is incubator manager of the Lewisburg center.
The Danville pilot project will work on health, wellness and innovations, he said.
"This came about because of a Merck grant and its resources," Hummer said.
The total of the Merck's Neighbor of Choice Program grant will be announced during a grand opening and ribbon cutting on March 18. The incubator will be located in the DRIVE office building, along Railroad Street, in the former Metso Minerals complex.
Incubator professionals will assist businesses in planning, design, business plans, marketing plans and where to obtain capital, Hummer said.
The Merck grant will be the first phase, getting the project off the ground, with additional community partners sought, he said.
"I am excited about the number of partners and beyond that will be involved," Hummer said. "We have had great talks with Bloomsburg University about their students and about Bucknell students in a collaborative environment to empower entrepreneurs."
Montour County Commissioner and DRIVE board member Trevor Finn said, "The venture will assist in entrepreneurship and hopefully mimic some of the successes that have already been established by Startup Lewisburg."
"We're trying to mimic that in Danville and to help foster that relationship between the SBDC and Bucknell with DRIVE," he said.
He said the Lewisburg incubator, known as Startup Lewisburg, has existed for seven years. Twelve companies rent space from the incubator, located in a Keystone Innovation Zone, which offers incentives like tax credits to grow businesses. He hopes a similar state designation can be made for the Danville location.
The Lewisburg project has resulted in 36 entrepreneurs creating more than 300 jobs and $14 million to $15 million in capital obtained, said Hummer. Students get experience in working for real companies, he said.
Hummer was also re-elected for a second year as DRIVE board chairman. Other officers re-elected were Vice Chairman Greg Cole, treasurer Dan Knorr and secretary Dean Girton.
Days Inn conservator
Board members discussed the Montour County commissioners asking a county judge to hold a hearing to appoint DRIVE as conservator to oversee the future of the closed Days Inn at the Danville exit of Interstate 80 that has become an eyesore and an attraction to trespassers.
Board solicitor Karen Hackman said the conservator would oversee clean-up and marketing of the property. DRIVE Executive Director Jennifer Wakeman said mortgages are held on the property. DRIVE would receive some compensation, Hackman said.
Montour County Commission Chairman Ken Holdren said he understood the inn owner would receive money only if any money is leftover. Hummer said this will not be a liability to DRIVE.
Cole said supporting Valley Township and the county is the right thing to do.
Finn said he didn't know how the county could have done this without DRIVE and its professional staff.
"I don't know where we would have gone," he said, thanking the DRIVE board for its support. He said the effort should make the county a better place to live, work and play. "It's a gateway," he said of the Danville exit.
Path to sustainability
Wakeman said DRIVE, as it begins its sixth year and following its move to new offices on Railroad Street, has been put on a path to sustainability in coming years. There should be a lot of dirt moving at the site for a rail access project, she said. She said neighboring counties are considering joining DRIVE.
Representatives of the North Shore Railroad and Joint Rail Authority of SEDA-COG, of which Wakeman is a member, and commissioners from Montour and Columbia counties who created DRIVE also attended. She said the joint rail authority has been a fantastic partner.
Snyder County Commission Chairman Joe Kantz, who is also business and development manager for the railroad, said he was probably the biggest naysayer when DRIVE was formed. He said DRIVE is the Cadillac economic development entity in the region and he commended its work.
Todd Hunter, North Shore chief marketing officer, said he has been with the railroad for nearly 25 years and "never before have I been more excited about Northumberland to Berwick," he said of opportunities along that line.
Wakeman thanked the board, her staff and the commissioners for being visionaries and creating an organization "unlike any in the region."
Board member Harold Hurst said he and two members of the former Greater Danville Industrial Development Authority provided money to make DRIVE's purchase of the Metso property possible.
Hummer said he was grateful to the board members, community partners and to the commissioners "to work toward a better region." He said Wakeman has made DRIVE an "amazing entity to get people to communicate and talking."