TURLOCK -- Turns out small-business owners really like getting free money.
Turlock's Business Partnership Incentives Program has been so successful that it needed an infusion of cash halfway through the year. The City Council unanimously approved an additional $15,000 for the program to complete the 2012-13 fiscal year. The budgeted $10,000 already was depleted because of increased interest.
"It has been more successful than we originally anticipated," said Assistant City Manager Maryn Pitt. "We underbudgeted for the number of participants and businesses opened as a result of the program."
The program, which began in 2011, offers new or expanding businesses $1,000 to open in vacant existing space in Turlock.
In its first fiscal year, the project funded 10 businesses, which hired more than 30 employees.
The program, spearheaded by Councilwoman Amy Bublak, was begun to help kick-start the city's stagnant economy. At the time, the vacancy rate in downtown Turlock was 30 percent. Now, it's about 10 percent.
Owners of eligible businesses which can be in any appropriately zoned area across the city must meet with officials, submit a business plan and provide data on hiring and sales after opening.
Those who have taken advantage of the string-free $1,000 from the city said it gave them a boost right when they needed it. New business owner Jonathan Atwood opened CycleFit Modesto on Geer Road a year ago and received his incentive check in July.
Atwood said he has saved most of the money to spend on advertising for his spinning instruction studio, just in time for people looking to make good on their New Year's fitness resolutions.
"We had everything set up when we started our business, but we really needed help with advertising," he said. "As a new business, we're just kind of breaking even. And, otherwise, all this advertising would be coming out of our pocket."
Another participant, Rad Rags Scrubs owner Susan Baker, opened her first storefront on Crane Avenue in September after 24 years in business making tie-dyed clothing. She said the money helped reimburse some of her startup costs, including city licenses and other fees.
"Opening can mean some major expenses, so a thousand bucks is nothing to sneeze at," Baker said. "It's very significant and it certainly was for me."
Bublak said the no-strings nature of the incentive program was on purpose, to allow business owners to use the money as they need it most. She said she even has been approached by representatives from another city interested in emulating the program.
"It is flattering for Turlock to set the standard here," she said. "We hadn't anticipated the success we got. My hope is that this (new $15,000) won't be enough, too. I want to be hopeful and say we're going to have to fill it again."
Bublak and Pitt said they are interested in possibly expanding the program to help even more businesses.
"The crazy thing is, if we had someone walk into town and say they wanted to add 25 to 30 new jobs, we'd do backflips," Pitt said. "But through this, we've managed to achieve the same thing incrementally."
For more on Turlock's Business Partnership Incentives Program, call (209) 668-5542 or go to www.ci.turlock.ca.us/ businesses/ businessincentiveprogram.asp.
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on www.twitter.com/turlocknow.