Aging Hamilton business incubator struggling to compete

The 20-year-old Hamiilton Technology Centre has a history of success for incubating new business. But it sits one third empty and needs more than $200,000 in renovations to stay competitive and find new start-ups to fill that empty space.

An aging city business incubator is one third empty and staff say without $200,00 in repairs it will be difficult to find new tenants.

City councillors are being asked to spend over $200,000 to repair the aging and dated Hamilton Technology Centre in Flamborough, near Highways 5 and 6.

 The  20-year-old facility has a successful track record in business incubation-historically it has operated at 90-95%  occupancy- but is finding it tough to compete with newer facilities.

"High tech companies expect Class A facilities," says a report on the facility. " In order to remain competitive with other incubators in the region  (i.e. McMaster Innovation Park) and increase the occupancy rate, the appearance and quality of the facility must be comparable to similar buildings."

The centre, located on Innovation Drive needs a new parking lot ($170,000), a fresh paint job for its atrium ($35,000) and re-caulking of the building's skylights ($18,000.)

Council is expected to pay for the renovations by using money from the city's reserve fund.

The report says since 1993, 72 companies with more than 290 employees have graduated from the facility. Right now, 9,000 of its 28,000 square feet are empty, the result of the "graduation" of 12 companies in the past year.

Engineer Peter Young started his business Opus Automation Inc., which now employs 15 people at its Ancaster headquarters, at the HTC. 

Young said when his company was based at the technology centre 1998-2003 it was almost full with other businesses. He said he was initially drawn to the good conditions for running a business — the rent price was right and there were no penalties for changing spaces — but later discovered the benefits to working near other fledgling businesses.

Young said he hopes there are enough industrial start-ups to keep the HTC open and busy, but said there's competition in Hamilton now. 

"Perhaps if I was starting a business today I would be looking at other things," he said, noting the arrival of the McMaster Innovation Park. 

City staff have also noted the need to keep up with other industrial parks. And, staff said the HTC needs to be maintained to its real estate value high. 

Council is set to vote on the new funding at the next meeting of its General Issues Committee, which has been pushed back to Jan. 22.