With the help of a block grant, an autism clinic plans to expand its footprint in Keene, offering a school alternative for students and hiring 15 people within the next year.
Compass Innovative Behavior Strategies provides therapeutic services for children with autism-spectrum disorder, among other developmental difficulties. The company is based in Concord but has had a clinic in Keene for the past year in the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship, and it hopes to move into a more permanent space.
At its meeting Wednesday morning, the Cheshire County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved sponsoring Compass’ community development block grant application for up to $300,000 after a presentation from the company’s CEO and co-owner, Dan Dube. Community development block grants are awarded by the N.H. Community Development Finance Authority to municipalities and are aimed at benefiting low- to moderate-income residents.
Until recently, the clinics’ focus has been on applied behavior analysis, Dube explained in an interview. But the company plans to offer speech and occupational therapy services at all of its locations with the help of this grant.
“The idea is that we want to be sort of like the Dartmouth-Hitchcock of autism services, so that parents can get all the services they need under one roof without having to go to different providers,” he said.
Business NH Magazine named Compass one of 2018’s fastest-growing family-owned businesses in the state, and the firm also topped the publication’s 2018 list of companies to watch.
Dube said the company is “very close to finalizing an agreement on a standalone building in the Keene area.” He declined to disclose the location.
He and his wife, Ally, launched Compass out of their Bedford home in mid-2014. As parents of children with autism, he said they founded the company with a unique perspective “because we’ve lived it.”
In a 2014 sample of 8-year-olds from 11 U.S. communities, about 1 in every 59 children was identified as having autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A large part of the company’s mission targets kids in underserved communities, Dube noted, adding that Compass is the largest Medicaid-accepting provider for autism services in the state.
“One of the areas that we identified early on was Cheshire County, and particularly the Keene area,” Dube said, citing low funding for public schools and a shortage of autism service providers in the region.
Since founding the firm in 2014, the business has expanded to encompass three clinics: a 10,000-square-foot headquarters in Concord, a 13,000-square-foot facility in Nashua and temporary spaces in Keene.
In January 2018, the Dubes ventured into Cheshire County by renting out the basement of Next Level Church on Park Avenue. About a year ago, Compass moved its Keene operations to the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship on Roxbury Street, where the firm has used up to five rooms, Dube said.
While the company has been grateful for the space, it “was always going to be a temporary situation,” he said.
“… After almost a year in there, we had outgrown what we were able to utilize in the building, and it was disrupting the other tenants. So we mutually agreed that it was time for us to find our own building,” Dube said.
That decision also stemmed from the inability to operate as a private school in a shared space.
Last November, the company launched Compass Academy at its Concord location. While parents bringing their children to the clinic for therapy are billed through insurance, Dube explained, the academy functions as an alternative placement option for students that is funded by school districts.
To get approval to run the academy in Keene, Dube said the company needed a standalone building.
For six months, he said, the company has been searching for its own space, and this latest attempt is its fourth try to secure a new location. Dube said the others fell through for various reasons, but noted that in general, there just aren’t many vacant buildings available in Keene that meet the company’s needs.
But the building Compass is eyeing now would accommodate 30 children, he added, and his conversations with local school districts indicate it would fill up quickly. Dube said Compass serves about a dozen kids at the Hannah Grimes space, and he expects that to double within the next six to 12 months.
With that increase in students will come a need to increase staffing above its current level of 12 in Keene.
“The grant requirements are that we have to hire 15 people within 18 months, but I honestly think that we’ll hire 15 people by December,” Dube said. “We’re 4 years old, and we have almost 80 people on our staff, so that’s how quickly we’ve grown.”
Community development block grants that would specifically go toward business financing and job creation are typically sub-granted to an economic development corporation.
Compass’ application required approval from Cheshire County’s commissioners, as the municipality, and is being handled by the Monadnock Economic Development Corp.
If awarded, the grant would be for up to $300,000 and require a match that Dube said he has secured through a bank loan. Compass would use the grant money to pay some general expenses, he said, as well as retrofit all three clinics with upgraded furniture and occupational therapy equipment.
The grant money would not be used to buy the building, which the company will lease short-term with an option to purchase, according to Dube.
If everything goes according to plan, he said, Compass could be moving into its new location and open for business as early as mid-June.
As for the grant, John G. “Jack” Dugan, president and CEO of the Monadnock Economic Development Corp., said Wednesday they are “scrambling now to get the application written by this time next week.” The submission would then go before the N.H. Community Development Finance Authority, which could consider the application as soon as mid-July, he said.