Harrison Place, located in downtown Lockport, is an incubator set inside the former GM Harrison Radiator factory, where it houses a mix of industrial, artisanal, and tech companies. Mancuso Business Development Group, which runs the space, offers tenants a variety of amenities and services—including taking on some of the risk that frequently prohibits smaller businesses or startups from being able to open up and scale or run at an affordable cost.
Harrison Place is part of the Western New York Incubator Network (WIN), a collaborative effort among business incubators to expand entrepreneurial services, help startups, and grow wealth in the region. WIN is managed by University at Buffalo Business & Entrepreneur Partnerships.
Tom Mancuso, Mancuso Business Development Group president, has been in the business of creating workspaces and fostering people and companies for decades.
“During the 60-plus years that the Mancuso Group has been helping people start and grow businesses, we’ve seen that it’s never a straight line up,” says Mancuso. “There are times of growth, and there are downturns—some worse than others. Everybody’s been impacted by COVID-19 either personally or professionally. It’s bad news.”
As the pandemic hit, businesses in the incubator were variously impacted. “We saw the spectrum: There were people who were essentially unaffected or even busier because of the crisis, and a lot who slowed down,” says Mancuso.
Harrison Place stayed open in order to accommodate all their tenants, and also worked to ensure their safety while complying with guidelines.
“During the shutdown, because we have some essential businesses, our job was to find a way to keep the building open safely,” Mancuso adds. “Now, as the region and more businesses start to reopen, we are trying to be appropriate and safe in easing the way towards whatever the new situation will be.”
“We know the other side of 2020 will look very different,” he says. “It’s such a global shutdown/slowdown; the only thing I’d say with confidence is things will come back. But we don’t have a crystal ball—no one knows how or which sectors will pop back first. Entrepreneurs will find ways to prosper, and provide goods and services that people need and want.”
Edla Collora, the director of new business development for Harrison Place, brings a positive attitude and a helpful nature to her job, which includes showing the property to prospective new tenants, as well as providing all kinds of assistance and guiding the existing tenants through challenges when she can.
“A lot of small businesses are one or two people, trying to do everything themselves, like operations, logistics and marketing. We can help along the way, something as simple as receiving and unloading shipments, doing short-term leases to make it easier,” she says. “We don’t want to see them digging a hole that they can’t get out of. If I see someone that’s struggling, I try to work with them. Some have closed up. And some have had success. They’ve even gone out and bought their own buildings—we call them our ‘graduates.’”
Now that the state has moved to phased reopening, she’s fielding calls from people newly interested in the space.
“We did get a few calls during the shutdown—there are people who are ready to pull the trigger on their business,” says Collora. “Those who lost their jobs, and now, because of the situation, they want to control their own destiny. They don’t want to be dependent on someone else’s business model.”
There were also those tenants, designated essential, like TREK, which has 120 employees in 62,000 square feet of space at Harrison Place, who responded by modifying the ways they do business.
“TREK is our largest tenant—they are essential, since they have a lot of government contracts,” says Collora. “So they modified their workforce operation from one shift to three shifts. We had the building on a security lockdown, and the workers coming in every day were screened.”
“Even before the pandemic, the purpose of the Harrison Place project was to help the economy and create jobs,” continues Collora. “If someone wants to start or root their business here, we work with them to figure out their needs. Lease rates are affordable, and we build out the space for them to their specifications.”
Jerry.ai is one such tenant. Before the shutdown, the three-year-old, Palo Alto-based startup, with teams located in Rochester, Toronto, and Buffalo, had been growing at an impressive rate. Using its proprietary technology, the company writes auto and property insurance in all states except in Hawaii, according to Josh Damico, Jerry’s vice president of sales and service.
Damico, a native of Western New York, knew that he wanted to find an appropriate space for Jerry to expand its footprint, andJerry.ai's bullpen; during the shutdown, all employees were working from home. The company is planning an expansion.had searched for and found Harrison Place. He was also meeting with Tom Murdock, who advises entrepreneurs and startups in his role with UB Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships.
“I loved the area around Lockport, and liked the idea of being part of its resurgence,” says Damico. “I asked Tom [Murdock] if he thought it was a possibility, and he said to check it out. He and UB have been wonderful, fantastic.”
Damico recalls pulling up to the building, however, and partly because of the raw, unfinished feel to the space, not being immediately convinced. “Edla started showing me the space, and I said, ‘I’m not sure I can run an insurance company out of here,’” he adds. “But she laid it all out, how she would do the carpets and walls, and open it up and make it a cool office-lofty space. And she did.
“We showed up and the office looked brand new. Our end was signing the contract; Edla and Harrison Place did 99% of the work, and took care of the remodel. My team and I love the historic aspect of the building and the area—the idea of taking an old building and repurposing it into something modern and functional,” says Damico.
“Jerry Insurance being here is exciting for the campus and for Lockport. Their goal is to grow to 100–150 jobs,” says Collora. “To start with, we created a workspace/call center for them out of a former carpenter shop. Now they are looking to start back up in July—we have a large footprint available for them, that will accommodate that expansion.”
“At the end of the hall near our current space, there is a 17,000-square-foot space waiting to be flipped and turned into a gorgeous open loft space,” affirms Damico. “I can envision us growing into that; the company is doubling every quarter, and we have 30% growth month over month.”
Harrison Place and Mancuso also help tenants with networking, through events. Management has seen tenants and neighbors come together to creatively brainstorm and collaborate when someone is looking for a solution or innovative approach to an issue.
Tom Mancuso notes that most of the entrepreneurial tenants at Harrison Place with small- and medium-sized businesses managed to pay their rent throughout the entire shutdown. “They knew they’d have to pay at some point,” he observes. “If you’re not familiar with entrepreneurs, they are resilient, committed, and resourceful people who find a way. That gives me faith that we all get through this and come back.”