Ten years ago this week, the Ozarks Small Business Incubator (OzSB) opened its doors to the community. This landmark moment was the culmination of years of work by a community of dedicated business leaders, donors, multiple grants and senate appropriations. The idea for OzSBI began years before, when in April of 2005 the St. Louis Post Dispatch published an article quoting a Small Business Administration study showing West Plains ranked #1 in Missouri and 44th nationwide in the creation of new jobs by entrepreneurs.
Two years prior, Downtown West Plains, Inc. (DTWP), a nonprofit focused on renovating downtown West Plains, had purchased the Butler Building with help from the City of West Plains, but the nonprofit had yet come up with a plan for the building. The Post Dispatch article gave the planned restoration a lofty vision: to create a business incubator that would help entrepreneurs succeed. DTWP created a sub-committee, which included Toney Aid, Newt Brill, and Gene Weinbeck, to investigate what an incubator was and how to establish one.
In 2006 the committee was expanded to include Tom Marhefka (Business), Lyle Wright (MSU/SBTDC), Bryan Adcock (Ozark Action), Danny Campbell (USDA), Brenda Smith (South Central Career Center), Johnny Murrell (SCOCOG), and Kris Norman (Economic Director for the City of West Plains). Over the next five years,this committee secured $1,932,000 in grants and raised $290,000 in matching funds from local donors to stabilize the structure and hire an architect and engineer to create blueprints to renovate the 1908 building. 2011 saw a solid year of construction work to prepare the incubator to open. Finally, on January 2nd, 2012, the Ozarks Small Business Incubator opened to little fanfare and began the rewarding work of helping businesses grow. That year, the first class of Operation Jump Start was held at MSU-WP and attended by 15 aspiring entrepreneurs. Many of the attendees went on to create business in West Plains, including West Plains Lock & Key, The Emerald Room and Wages Brewing Company.
When OzSBI opened in 2012, it boasted just over 8,000 square feet of renovated space, including eight offices, the conference room, break room and lobby. Since then, there have been four additional renovations at OzSBI. There are now twenty-one offices and a coworking space in the building.