NORTEC is selling community assets: the Bryon small business incubator in Centennial Circuit, Byron industrial estate, established 1999 and the Ballina small business incubator in the Ballina industrial estate, Clark Street, established 1993.
These incubators were established by BETC, based in Ballina. These two incubators and a third located at the Byron Community College, Mullumbimby comprised the only network of regional incubators in Australia.
The Ballina incubator was recognised for excellence and innovation when BETC was awarded the incubator of the year award by the federal government in 1994. That year BETC was invited to give a presentation to the American Business Incubator association annual conference in Atlanta.
BETC merged with TTEC, based in Tweed in late 2007, and NORTEC took over management of the incubator and BETC assets. The understanding was that NORTEC would keep these assets in trust for the community.
The key to success of incubators is the provision of business support services and mentoring, to ensure success of fledgling businesses. If this support is not provided incubators become rental properties where the landlord simply collects the rent.
Community assets, in this case buildings which are fully owned by the organisation are hard to come by and in short supply. Once sold the community has lost the asset forever. If the purpose of these assets changes they can be used for alternate community uses, for example the Byron incubator has a training room which has been used for community training courses.
The sale of these incubators will come as a disappointment to the government (donor), past tenants who have successfully graduated and established their businesses, and the staff who established and managed the incubators.
These small business incubators have been successfully growing small businesses for the past two decades. When sold they will likely become real estate rental properties with no business support/incubation component.
NORTEC needs to explain why it is selling these assets that were funded for small business incubation and what it plans to do with the money.
Garry Bargh, past BETC manager