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Business incubator celebrates first year

Lawton's newest business incubator is ahead of schedule on attracting tenants, but it still has plenty of room and services to offer the local business community.

Great Plains Business Development Center recently celebrated its first anniversary, and coordinator Cody Holt said it's been a year of learning by the staff and the tenants.

The feasibility study that preceded construction of the new building projected that occupancy would reach 50 percent by the third year, he said, and he calculates the total occupancy rate is now 54 percent, so it's "ahead of the curve."

"I think it's turned out pretty well," he said. Tenants were told that "This is the first year; it's going to be a learning experience for you and for us."

Tenants have suggested some things that staff hadn't considered in designing the center, such as adding blinds to the offices on the east side to reduce heat from the sun and adjusting when air conditioning is shut off at night (to accommodate late-night workers). The center is now working to have mail delivery available on days when the Great Plains Technology Center is closed for holidays.

All the private offices on the east side are occupied, and there are only two openings in the co-working spaces, Holt said. One client has already moved from a co-working space to a private office.

The two private studios for artists are vacant; one artist is moving into the shared space. Holt said that's leading the center to refocus its efforts, perhaps by encouraging graphic artists to take up some of those spaces.

One of the six light industrial bays has been rented, Holt said. There have been other prospective tenants, but the fact that those bays share the same air conditioning system as the rest of the building has limited the types of operations that can use the space. He said he's working with some prospective tenants who need space because they've outgrown their home-based space.

Finding clients to use the commercial kitchen has been slower than expected, but it now has a client who uses it at least twice a week, Holt said, and it's an area that still has room for growth.

The Comanche Nation fast prototype lab  with 3-D printers and a laser engraver  is being expanded to better accommodate heat-sensitive equipment. Students from the tech center are using the machines, and one local resident has been making parts to restore a vintage car.

The chief goal of the center is to help nurture new businesses to create jobs. Holt said two clients have already "graduated" to their own offices off campus. Forty-three percent of tenants have added employment, accounting for 49 new jobs, 35 of them in the Lawton area, Holt said.

The tech center sees the incubator as more than just a collection of offices and equipment. Holt said the incubator allows clients to learn from each other and find tenants who can provide services, such as designing web pages, or provide contacts or answer questions about contracting with government agencies.

"We've had a lot of them work together, which is great because they're going to learn from each other," Holt said. 

The center provides more than just office space, said Bill Cunningham, the tech center's director of business and industry services. Two high-tech conference rooms and the McMahon Lecture Hall provide room for business meetings and presentations, and even an place for a driving instructor to conduct classes. Those spaces are available not only for clients but for the public as well.

While the incubator is a separate building on the tech center campus, clients have access to a full range of business services from experts in the Economic Development Center. 

Renee Hardage recently founded Ready Made by Renee, which provides customers with five lunches a week or frozen family dinners ready to be placed in a slow cooker.

The Lawton Constitution

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