After years of being in the red, largely because of rents paid by two primary tenants – the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute and U of M Extension – Valley Technology Park is making a net profit annually of around $30,000. Add that up over the past few years and the bottom line is almost $180,000 in the black.

    At a strategy session last week, Craig Hoiseth, the executive director of CHEDA, which is VTP’s manager and landlord, asked members of his board and other community leaders and stakeholders in the room if VTP’s budget surplus should simply be allowed to accumulate more, or should some of it be invested in something that benefits the community.

    No one seated around the VTP conference room table indicated a preference for simply letting the surplus go, and rightly so. Because, while when it comes to taking on major initiatives to improve Crookston, $180,000 might not be a lot of money, it’s not exactly pocket change, either.

    The thinking on this day and on this page is that one of the most intriguing possibilities discussed at that strategy session involved an investment in a small-scale retail business incubator to be located downtown. Hoiseth and others envisioned a shared/co-oped space where maybe in one space someone does fingernails, in another space someone shares craft jewelry, and in another space someone makes, markets and/or sells something else. Maybe there could be a rotation of small retail ventures over time.

    How could or would CHEDA invest in something like that to make it a reality? That’s to be determined, but one would think that in order to give it some sustainability, the $180,000 VTP surplus wouldn’t last very long, and some or maybe even all of VTP’s annual $30,000 would need to be committed as well. Because we all know that when it comes to being a retailer in downtown Crookston, much less a fledgling start-up, it’s never easy.

    Plus, like Hoiseth said, business incubation is expensive because, by definition, any business needing incubation resources needs those resources because “they don’t have any money,” he said.

    This is an idea worth exploring. There are likely others as well. An option not worth exploring, however, is just sitting on that VTP money.