Searching for new business: Kent County Levy Court to offer work space to startups

The Kent County Levy Court complex at 555 South Bay Road. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — There has been nearly 2,000-square feet of office space just sitting empty on the second floor of the Kent County Levy Court Administration Building for more than a year.

Having empty space in such a sparkling facility as the Kent County complex didn’t sit too well with Jim Waddington, executive director of the Kent Economic Partnership, whose office sits adjacent to the vacated space.

So he went out and spearheaded the idea of bringing the Kent County Emerging Enterprise Development Center (KCEEDC) to the office space, which will provide an incubator and collaborative workspace for start-up businesses to rent at an affordable price and give them an opportunity to grow.

Mr. Waddington and Kent County Administrator Mike Petit de Mange expect to bring between eight to 10 new businesses to the new KCEEDC, beginning as early as October.

“It will be for start-up businesses and it will be for entrepreneurs who need a more professional working space,” Mr. Waddington said. “The nice thing about having it in Levy Court is that it’s Class A space and we have adequate parking and security. It’s a good center for business development.

“We’ve got semi-private spaces, we have professional spaces and then we have shared office space, desks that people can come in and use.”

The new businesses will now occupy the offices that were vacated when the county’s Parks and Recreation staff moved their administrative staff from the Levy Court complex to the new Kent County Recreation Center off New Burton Road in March 2016.

Plenty of perks

All prospective tenants will meet with Mr. Waddington to discuss qualifications and initiate the application process at his office in the Kent County Levy Court complex at 555 South Bay Road, Room 257.

Those businesses that are selected to become a part of the KCEEDC will receive assistance in areas such as marketing, financial management, business concepts, organization, customer relations and operations.

Kent County Administrator Mike Petit de Mange, left, and Jim Waddington, executive director of the Kent Economic Partnership, are excited for the chance to welcome start-up small businesses to the Kent County Emerging Enterprise Development Center in the Levy Court building on Bay Road. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

Kent County Levy Court has entered into a partnership with the University of Delaware’s Small Business Development Center to provide on-site business training and consultation services for the tenants of the KCEEDC.

Mr. Petit de Mange echoed Mr. Waddington’s thoughts when he thought of the possibilities this could open up for entrepreneurs.

“We think this is a great opportunity for local start-up businesses and early stage businesses to establish themselves, have a Class A office space to work out of and have a really great business address,” said Mr. Petit de Mange.

“The (Kent County Levy Court) building offers a lot of great amenities like meeting places for their clients, we have audio-visual equipment that they would be able to use for presentations and we have a WIFI system, so internet access will be part of the offering.”

Searching for start-ups

No clients have been signed up just yet, but Kent County officials believe opening the space up for rent will be the perfect temporary fit for many start-up businesses.

“For people trying to start a business very often one of the impediments is they don’t have a space to use,” Mr. Waddington said. “What happens is somebody has an idea for starting a business but they get kind of bounced into looking for space, they might end up buying a property, and then all of a sudden they’re in the property-development business, and that’s not really what they want to do.

“This will give someone an opportunity to start a business. The space is going to be relatively affordable.”

KCEEDC will be offering four different types of rental space within its professional office environment: Semi-private work station ($225 per month), professional desk space cubicle ($175 per month), business desk workspace ($125 per month) and weekly share space ($75 per month).

The top two tiers of office space will provide owners with 24-hour access cards and membership in the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce (CDCC).

Mr. Petit de Mange said all options will include shared copier service, WIFI access and a mailing address. There is also a conference room that all businesses will be welcome to use.

“We just think it’s a great location for any business,” he said. “It’s been very successful for the county and, fortunately, when the space became available Jim Waddington and Judy Diogo (president of the CDCC) began thinking about what we might be able to use it for.”

The professional office rental space will not be utilized by hands-on businesses such as restaurants or dog-grooming services, unless it’s strictly on the administrative side.

“It would be for any start-up business,” Mr. Waddington said. “It will be available if people needed a professional office space for personal services and that kind of thing.

“Our idea is that this would not be a permanent residence for any business. We’d really be developing short-term leases.”

Mr. Petit de Mange said, “Obviously this is a professional office environment, so we’re somewhat limited to those types of businesses that are looking for a business-office use with great support.”

Inspiration from New Castle County

Mr. Waddington said the idea to open the empty office space up actually came to him from northern Delaware.

“We’ve seen successful incubators that were opened in Middletown and also in New Castle,” he said. “What we find is very often the management side of the business needs a professional place to operate, where they might have a retail presence somewhere else. That’s always a possibility.”

Mr. Petit de Mange said Kent County saw several success stories from New Castle County and decided that it didn’t have anything to lose.

Levy Court Commissioners voted in support of opening the business incubator at a meeting in early August.

“We visited a few other incubators in New Castle County and we were inspired by what they were doing,” Mr. Petit de Mange said. “We think this offers an opportunity for those early stage businesses here in Kent County and central Delaware to get established.

“We offer a highly visible, easy-to-find location with plenty of parking and great meeting spaces. We’re anxious to sign up some clients and get them in here.”

Mr. Waddington anticipates that Kent County will be holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new office facility the first week in October.

He said all tenants of the KCEEDC will have to commit to maintain membership in the CDCC and attend one training event or business networking function per quarter hosted by UD’s Small Business Development Center, the CDCC, the Kent Economic Partnership or similar business support organization.

“One of the real exciting things from my perspective is that we’re actually going to have the Small Business Development Center’s presence here in Kent County,” Mr. Waddington said. “I think they’re a valuable resource and this is going to provide them with a professional setting and help bring SBDC resources to the table.

“This is definitely going to provide a tremendous opportunity for start-up businesses to get up and running throughout Kent County. Like we like to say, Kent County is open for business.”

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