Study: Lebanon economy could benefit from business incubator

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/20/2020 9:54:26 PM
Modified: 2/20/2020 9:54:15 PM

LEBANON — A business incubator and coworking center proposed for River Valley Community College’s Lebanon campus holds “great potential” and could strengthen economic vitality downtown, according to a study released Thursday.

An “entrepreneur center” offering affordable space and supported by college programming would “correct a large and obvious void presently left unfulfilled,” said the study, which was written last month by Orford-based Collaborative Strategic Solutions.

“This exciting endeavor will require inspiration, collaboration, initiative, determination and leadership,” the study said. “To accomplish the goals and objectives will require embracing and utilizing the many traits of the entrepreneur by the individuals involved in its planning, launch and operations and by RVCC itself.”

River Valley and the nonprofit Dartmouth Regional Technology Center commissioned the study in August with the expectation it would outline the challenges and benefits of creating a new business incubator on the Lebanon Mall.

The $12,000 effort was made possible by a federal Community Development Block Grant, which required the approval of Lebanon’s City Council.

The proposed entrepreneurship center would house a business incubator where startups would be supported with educational offerings, said Josh Lamoureux, River Valley’s vice president of strategy and workforce development.

Coworking space also would be available either at River Valley’s Lebanon space or inside surrounding buildings, such as the former Citizens Bank that now houses temporary city offices, he added.

“It’s kind of the whole package,” Lamoureux said of the effort.

To be successful, River Valley must be willing to invest in an “aggressive marketing program” that would draw awareness to the new space, the study said.

Officials also must draw connections to the existing business community and offer programs directed to startups’ needs, it said.

College officials hope the center would breathe new life into the 19,000-square-foot former Woolworth’s store that was once home to the now-defunct Lebanon College.

The Community College System of New Hampshire, which oversees River Valley, purchased the Lebanon space in 2015 for $1.5 million and spent the next year renovating it.

However, it’s since gone underutilized as enrollment declined and a shift to night classes left the building empty during business hours.

“It’s utilized, but it’s underutilized, and our programs are primarily in the evening,” Charlene Ashey, the college’s interim supervisor and student services specialist, told the City Council last year. “During the day, the building sits there.”

At the time, college officials blamed the region’s low unemployment rate for the decline in people seeking job training and other education programs.

But that trend is beginning to turn around, Lamoureux said.

River Valley recently received state funding to offer a licensed practical nurse program at its campuses, he said, adding the construction of a nursing lab is now underway in Lebanon.

The college also has entered into discussions with Dartmouth-Hitchcock to start training licensed nursing assistants.

In the fall, the Lebanon campus will host a web development program and River Valley’s massage therapy program is so successful it’s now offering two classes at the same time.

“The interest in these programs has grown since we’ve been getting our name out there,” Lamoureux said, adding the college’s new leadership is “very active” promoting programs in Lebanon.

Mayor Tim McNamara said Thursday that the college’s growth is “exciting.”

“I think all of that is great in that it promotes entrepreneurship and helps satisfy a real need for health care workers and vitalizes that section of town,” he said via phone.

Lamoureux said the college plans to implement its plan in phases, beginning with fundraising for the business incubator.

He told the City Council on Wednesday that about $80,000 will be needed for renovations, including a new conference room and offices available to startups.

Tim Camerato can be  reached at or 603-727-3223.

Valley News

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