New Opportunities Open For Potential Business Owners

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FULTON - New efforts are being made in Fulton to encourage potential business owners to strongly consider making an investment in the town. A group of seven Fulton business owners, bankers and educators have launched what they're calling an Entrepreneurial Initiative board under the Fulton Area Development Corporation. The board was created to help promote community involvement and to better guide potential business owners in the area.

Small towns have traditionally struggled with the constant change in spending patterns, outside competition and new merchandising techniques. The Entrepreneurial Initiative will help mentor prospective business owners about how to successfully begin developing retail and business strategies.

Board members said the Fulton area is in an ideal location for business growth with close access to the highway, two colleges and the Callaway County Courthouse. New businesses would help fill vacant storefronts and commercial buildings in the downtown "Brick District," and would bring in additional sales tax in revenue to the city of Fulton.

Fulton Area Development Corporation President Bruce Hackmann said residents often have to leave Fulton to buy resources that are not offered locally.

"We've always said our location is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing in the fact that we have access to larger communities nearby that bring things to the table that we can take advantage of, but at the same time, we feel like we have a lot to offer in a community like Fulton," he said.

Hackmann also said providing material for the needs of local shoppers is an ongoing battle.

"That's the constant goal that we have in a community like this is to try to provide those types of services and goods that people want," he said.

He said smaller towns often struggle to compete with cities with more resources.

"This is something that a lot of communities have recognized because of the competitive nature of economic development and trying to attract a large business or a large industry to your community with a lot of jobs, it's so competitive," Hackmann said.

Fulton's was one of 39 downtowns in Missouri to be selected for the state's Downtown Revitalization and Economic Assistance for Missouri Initiative (DREAM) program. The initiative held focus groups and community surveys to form a strategic plan about how to increase downtown traffic and help fill vacant space. A recent survey showed that potential service and retail businesses would be the most profitable way to fill vacant space downtown.

PGAV Planners, an urban planning and consulting company, partnered with the DREAM initiative to analyze how Fulton residents felt about the town's resources. Its analysis showed the most room for financial gain in grocery stores, restaurants and building material and supplier dealers. The retail market analysis found that a lack of local retail businesses and building renovations were contributing factors to the low success rate of the Fulton area shopping experience.

One new business owner said the community has become more invested in growing the town's financial potential, after the restructuring of the Brick District Association.

Well Read co-owner Brian Warren and his wife moved to mid-Missouri from California. The couple opened a bookstore in the Brick District last October because they said they saw potential in the town's atmosphere.

"The neat thing about being in a small town is that... whatever you do has a big impact," Warren said.

He also said there is a need for more retail stores.

"We definitely need more businesses. We want more retail establishment to come down here and see what we are doing and realize just like we did when we started our business a year ago, that there's a lot of opportunity here and there's a ton of upside to investing in Fulton," he said.

The analysis also showed that residents made use of their close proximity to Columbia and Jefferson City by obtaining resources that were not offered in the area.

A telephone survey administered in 2009 as a part of the DREAM Initiative identified that most residents wanted to see more dining and retail shops in the downtown area and showed discontent with the Brick District's lack of entertainment and after hours options.

The new Entrepreneurial Initiative has board members from the Callaway Bank, Westminster College, and other local businesses represented. Hackmann said the diverse group will further advance economic development programs.

"We think we are ahead of the game in terms of having some of those resources already in the community," he said.

The Callaway Bank is offering to give new downtown business owners two percent of the purchasing loan cost to new businesses for two years. The two percent initiative will be given to businesses to enhance physical improvements, upgrade equippment and stock inventory.

The initiative board plans to release more information about mentoring programs, recruiting and a possible innovation center in the new year.