Amanda Baillie for Sierra Vista Herald
SIERRA VISTA — It is often said small businesses are the backbone of a community, and Sierra Vista would appear to be no exception.
On Friday, local entrepreneurs gathered to learn about two new projects designed to bolster the city’s economy through the promotion and growth of its independently owned enterprises.
The Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation (AREDF) will be opening the doors to its new Innovation Center in January, following the success of its existing Business Complex.
For several years the AREDF has been offering low cost cubicle and office space, with shared facilities like a conference room and business center, to companies at its Bartow Drive location.
The organization says it has seen an increasing need for affordable space where entrepreneurs can nurture their fledgling or existing businesses, before eventually expanding into their own, independent locations.
The AREDF also wanted to expand its own community outreach through training classes and workshops, but needed extra room to do so.
Work is currently ongoing at the Haymore Plaza on Fry Blvd. to create the Innovation Center, which will include 14 offices, a conference room and training facility.
“The Innovation Center and Business Complex will work hand in hand,” Laura Jones-Martinez, AREDF’s marketing and communications coordinator, told a group of about 30 people who attended a micro business town hall at the Cochise College Downtown Center. “We are expanding because we saw a need in the community for more classrooms and community outreach. We also have a waiting list for the Business Complex, so we expect the new center to fill up.”
The AREDF is partnering with Cochise College’s Small Business Development Center and Center for Lifelong Learning to offer business-orientated classes at its new 4,000 square feet location.
“We want this to be a collaborative learning environment that will be available to the whole community, as well as our tenants,” said Jones-Martinez.
Future events will include Failure Night, where businesses owners will gather to talk about their failures and what they learned from them, and Coffee & Pitch, where they will network and create or improve their elevator speeches.
Offices at the Innovation Center will range in size from 10’x11’ to 11’x17’, and the highest monthly rent will be around $400.
With larger businesses, like Hastings and Kmart, closing their doors, the AREDF believes the future of Sierra Vista’s economy lies with its local entrepreneurs.
“The way to recover our local economy is through the start-up of small businesses,” said executive director Mignonne Hollis. “It’s also about having that collaborative community learning to support our businesses.”
Collaboration was the theme of a second presentation at Friday’s event by local business owner Fred Slawson, who talked about his idea for a community marketplace.
Slawson is working to bring together a number of small businesses, food providers, and artisans under one roof, creating an indoor vendor area.
“The goal would be to establish a brand and a clientele in an environment that’s a lot more protected than being out in the market,” said Slawson, who owns a 3D printing and design company called Vanguard Cybernetics.
“The businesses would come together and have a space where they can share the burdens and the marketing and where they wouldn’t have to wait for a fair or other venue to promote themselves.”
Slawson came up with the concept after experiencing his own difficulties starting and maintaining a business.
“I was hearing the same stories from so many people who want to start a business but it’s just not practical for them,” he explained. “So I started thinking about who I could ally with and pool resources with to enhance everybody’s future.”
After discussing the idea with the SBDC, Slawson pitched his vision for the Sierra Vista Community Marketplace to the town hall attendees.
While still in the research phase, he believes the former Hastings store to be an ideal location for an indoor, emporium-style environment, but stressed he is not looking to create a flea market.
“I want this to be a place where people will come and spend a Saturday and enjoy being out with others. We don’t see much of that in Sierra Vista but we do it all the time in Bisbee,” he said, adding he envisions a place where residents and visitors would shop, grab a bite to eat, and watch artists at work. “I want this to be a nursery for small businesses that support each other and the local community and for this to offset that barrier to failure. I see this as a strong and vibrant culture of makers and merchants.”
Slawson is currently gathering data from area business owners and artists to gauge interest and willingness to invest in the project.
He is conducting an online survey to garner that information.
“I need to see to what degree businesses are willing to participate. What do they want to sell, what will they need and what can they provide?” said Slawson. “This is about pooling our resources so that we can bargain collectively.”