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October 15, 2012

WSCC incubator receives $200,000 ‘jump start’

CULLMAN — The new “green” business incubator at Wallace State in Hanceville is still in its infancy, but officials hope a new $200,000 state grant can help the economic engine reach the next gear.

The incubator, dubbed the Appalachian Regional Commission Center for Entrepeneurship and Energy Innovations, has received an appropriation from the state which will be used to help in the college’s goal to get “green,” sustainable energy projects off the ground.

First up: Zero RPM, one of two small businesses currently involved in the incubator. Launched earlier this year and formally announced in July, Zero RPM is building the IMS 100 idle mitigation system, which can power a vehicle and the air-conditioning for several hours via high-capacity batteries. The initial target audience is law enforcement and the device has already been tested in city and state police cars.

Wallace State President Vicki Hawsey said the $200,000 appropriation will help fund some research and development to help bring the company’s product to market.

“This enabled a partnership to secure funding to develop, prototype and take to market their energy related component for vehicles,” Hawsey said. “This will essentially go toward the engineering functions, as they engineer this project and make adjustments before they take it to production. It has tremendous potential, and we’re so grateful to Senator Paul Bussman for his support in this.”

With the incubator currently based out of the Wallace State campus — and Hawsey herself sharing her floor with some Zero RPM staffers — the long-term plan is to eventually find a site to build a facility specifically tailored for start-ups.

“We’re trying to get funds together for a facility, though we’re not sure yet where we’ll build that facility,” Hawsey explained. “The focus will be incubating energy related jobs, though we won’t restrict any other type of start-up businesses. But the primary focus is on incubating ‘green’ concepts.”

Hawsey said she is open to having the final facility on-or-off campus, depending on which option proves the most viable.

“We just don’t know yet, but Phase 1 of the project — if we’re able to construct the facility we’ve designed — would focus on 19 start-ups with the anticipated job development of about 120 jobs just in that phase,” she explained. “As that job development process matures, we have a plan to expand the facility in Phase 2, and potentially double or triple that capacity, depending on how we structure it. We think we can really make a difference in this area.”

Cullman Economic Development Agency Director Peggy Smith said the incubator is an exciting project for Cullman County and a unique approach to job growth.

“We’re excited about the incubator project and we see this as an important next step in economic development for this community, especially with the forward focus on ‘green’ energy,” she said. “This should help jump start the incubator and assist the company in their efforts, as well.”

Wallace’s appropriation was included in 15 similar grants totaling $4 million across the state, as part of the Accelerate Alabama initiative for economic development. Wallace State was the first and only community college to be included in the program to this point.

Governor Robert Bentley said the initial round of grants is the first step in a longer process to reinvestment in the state’s future growth.

“By awarding these grants, we are investing in new opportunities that will benefit our communities for years to come,” he said in a statement. “The Alabama Innovation Fund supports high-tech research and innovative ideas.  These grants will lead to new innovations for our communities and more jobs for Alabamians.”

Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said the initiative should boost the economy on a variety of fronts, most notably diversifying the types of industries present in the south.

“This program will enhance Alabama's economy in a variety of ways,” Canfield said.  "Not only will it help us attract new industries to the state, it will also work to expand the technology base available to our state's businesses.  It will help create new products and services, provide support to existing businesses and industries, and increase both the number and quality of scientists and engineers throughout the state.”

* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.

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