ESIC Incubator celebrates grand opening

MD-Incubator grand opening _3x

Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, center, joins EDD Director Keasha Haythe, left, while County Council President Ricky Travers and Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley help hold the scissors at the grand opening of the Eastern Shore Innovation Center

CAMBRIDGE — After years of planning, hard work, and anticipation, the Eastern Shore Inovation Center at the county Tech Park on Bucktown Road officially opened its doors on Feb. 29. Considering that the ESIC project, also known simply as the “Incubator,” was itself incubating for almost 10 years, the irony of an opening date that can only be celebrated once every four years was appreciated.

Hosting the grand opening was outgoing Economic Development Director Keasha Haythe, along with her staff, Business Development Manager Susan Banks, and ESIC manager Steve Dolbow.
Attending the event were local business leaders, visiting EDD directors from other Maryland counties, and representatives from Annapolis. Although 30 other business incubators are available in other parts of the state, this is the first business incubator on the Eastern Shore.

“This is a wonderful day,” said Senator Addie Eckardt. “It’s been a long time coming, and it’s a beautiful facility. I came in earlier and met a number of the tenants. There is a business here that stands to grow by 25 employees by the end of the year, there is manufacturing space, it’s just incredible. Congratulations to everybody who stayed the course on this one. The Incubator is a real boon to Dorchester County.”

The ESIC broke ground in June 2015, with construction handled by local business Willow Construction, was finished on schedule and under budget. When asked how the department managed to finish the building so quickly, Ms. Haythe immediately replied, “Willow Construction! Willow was very instrumental in that. We basically said we wanted to have this done by the end of January, and they were on target. We met every deadline, we were on budget — under budget, actually! — and on time. How many times can you say that you have a construction site that’s on time and under budget?”

Additionally, the Incubator passed its opening day already tenanted. “Here we are cutting the ribbon,” said County Council President Ricky Travers, “and the incubator is already 60 percent occupied.” Cambridge Federal, Quevera, Garvey Environmental, Mapping Technologies Inc., Dell Com Engineering, and Chef Patrick Fanning, are already in residence there. The offices of Dorchester County Economic Development were also relocated to the facility. Space is still available for a number of businesses, including a large space that could be dedicated to a light manufacturing startup.
The ESIC Incubator is located on Bucktown Road, just west of the Cambridge-Dorchester Regional Airport. The 13,000 square-foot building is dedicated to business start-ups. An incubator facility gives startup businesses an opportunity to grow in a entrepreneurial environment, while receiving assistance from local and state resources during the growth period. A new business is expected to use an incubator space for two years before moving on to purchasing or leasing its own space—and Dorchester County hopes that some of these businesses are comfortable enough in the Bucktown Road location to invest in a lot in the Cambridge Tech Park, which surrounds the ESIC facility.

The Tech Park is “open for business,” with 13 business lots available, each about 4 to 5 acres in size.

“This place,” said County Council President Travers, about the incubator building, “is something that is going to plant the seed of the businesses, and then we put it out there,” indicating the empty fields of the Dorchester Tech Park, “and harvest it. This is big. It’s not what baby boomers are used to — they think we’re talking about babies, about chickens — but incubators are big now for business.”

Funding for the $2.4 million ESIC was based on a $1.2 million lon from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, $1 million from the Maryland Technology Development Corp., and $200,000 from the Dorchester County budget.

Special guest and keynote speaker was Maryland state comptroller Peter Franchot, who gave two of his coveted medals to Dorchester County’s most prominent outgoing women, EDD Director Keasha Haythe and Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley, who both announced their resignation from public service in February.

Mayor Stanley was effusive in her praise for the new facility. “This is one of my “wow!” situations,” she said. “I’m very proud to be the mayor and be in partnership with the county as well as with so many in the community who made the vision come to reality.”

Mr. Franchot spoke with his usual good humor, saying that he was concerned when Senator Eckardt spoke and excused herself early, having to run back to Annapolis for a budget meeting. He said, “It reminds me of an old story in Washington where the Democrats—my party—wanted to spend two billion dollars on something, and the Republicans only wanted to spend one billion. So they went into a back room and came out with a compromise to spend three billion!

“But here’s what I love about Dorchester County,” he continued, “Frankly, of all the counties in the state, Dorchester County really respects the taxpayers. And Dorchester County really has a reputation for trying to restrain spending, so that we can fund the priorities that we care about, like this incubator project. And Dorchester welcomes the new economy.”

Comptroller Franchot also praised the Dorchester County Economic Development department, Dorchester County government, and the city of Cambridge for the incubator’s opening. He also thanked Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development and TEDCO for lending financial support to the project. As he often does, he credited Gov. Larry Hogan for creating a business-friendly environment in Maryland.

In his talk, Mr. Franchot was typically bullish on small businesses, start-ups and local business. “When consumers spend money at our main street stores, main street stores grow higher and invest. As policy makers, we need to make sure private sector business is recognized as the job creators and revenue generators, and employ our friends and neighbors,” he said.

“Public spending has a role in infrastructure, but it is nowhere near the scale we need to produce the jobs and the wage growth that our citizens need. (Public spending) is well-intentioned, it’s just not big enough. I fundamentally believe that the public and private sector must work together to achieve what we all seek, which is a stronger economy. So on behalf of the great state of Maryland I convey my sincerest congratulations and best wishes for continued success to the Eastern Shore Innovation Center, thank you all for letting me stop by.”

Outgoing EDD Director Haythe was all smiles at this, her final function with the department. “This is an exciting day, for not only me but for the entire community of Dorchester County,” she said. “I really do believe that this building will change the trajectory of economic development here–not only in Dorchester County, but for the Eastern Shore. So I am excited!”

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

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