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Jackson Business Challenge aims to grow downtown business

JACKSON — Looking to turn vacant storefronts into thriving business, a group of economic-minded Jackson organizations have created a hefty incentive for area entrepreneurs or current business owners looking to expand or propel their business idea into a formal proposal.

The Jackson Business Development Committee on Thursday launched a first-ever challenge with the goal of adding a business in its central business district by Sept. 1. The winning proposal will receive a $20,000-valued prize package of business start-up assistance ranging from grant funds, rental assistance, free marketing, accountancy assistance, legal assistance and more.

“Bringing more businesses to town is only going to help the existing businesses by drawing in more people,” said Tom Nelson, contracted Jackson Economic Development coordinator.

Nelson said the downtown district is a different atmosphere than near Interstate 90. It’s not too difficult to look up franchised businesses and try to pitch Jackson for their next franchise location, he said. What’s significantly more difficult, he added, is finding the next boutique owner or artisan.

That’s where the Jackson Business Challenge comes in.

“This is a great example for us to get those people out of the woodwork and get some momentum going toward these entrepreneurial people,” he said.

Nelson said there are about a half dozen vacant or soon-to-be vacant storefronts in Jackson’s central business district looking for its next owner or tenant.  

The three-phase challenge includes deadlines for a proposal, business plan and oral presentation. All proposals will be considered by a five-judge panel, which Nelson said will include representation from multiple organizations and individuals who have experience in running businesses and understand what will fit well in the downtown district.

“It’s not just about filling a space,” Nelson said. “We’re trying to improve the mixture of businesses in downtown. We’re trying to be intentional so that existing and new businesses are successful.”

Nelson said individuals shouldn’t feel overwhelmed or discouraged when it comes to moving beyond the first phase. Hoping the challenge will produce more than one new business startup or expansion, Nelson said a business plan writing class is being planned.

“We’ll help coach them through this process to be successful,” he said.

Hosted by the JBDC, Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce and various other Jackson organizations and businesses that support business growth, Nelson said the idea to host the challenge derived from successes of similar challenges in other Minnesota cities.

Hutchinson, Red Wing and Faribault all have had similar programs, Nelson said. The city of Hutchinson, he added, went from having several vacant storefronts to none.

More information about the Jackson Business Challenge is available online at Applications and further inquiries may be sent to the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce or the Jackson Economic Development Office.