In what is being called an unprecedented collaboration, representatives of Scotland County, Laurinburg and Richmond Community College gathered in a cotton field off of Highway 401 in Laurinburg on Thursday to break ground on the new Small Business Innovation Center.
“Using resources from Scotland County, the city of Laurinburg and RCC, this (center) is unique in North Carolina,” said County Commissioner Joyce McDow to an assembly of local and state officials, including representatives from the offices of Senator Richard Burr and US Representative Larry Kissell as well as State Reps Garland Pierce and Ken Goodman.
The approximately 14,000-square-foot center, which will house the offices of relocated RCC staff, including the Career Readiness Training director, the Industrial Workforce Training director and the Small Business Center Coordinator, as well as the county’s economic development offices, will include two 4,000 square foot spaces for small business tenants.
County Economic Development Director Greg Icard, credited by McDow for “lots of behind the scenes work over the past two years” on the project, said that the small business incubator represents movement toward a more “proactive and aggressive” approach to bringing work to the people of Scotland County.
“This is a different approach, other than sitting there and relying only on the recruitment of industry,” said Icard.
The new center will “walk businesses through the entire business lifecycle,” and will, in addition to business training opportunities, also offer a revolving loan fund for businesses in their third to fifth years and “small amounts” of startup capital for new businesses.
What is most unique about Scotland County’s incubation center is the arrangement between the city, the county and Richmond Community College, which will offer business training in the facility.
“When we first started this was going to be mostly an incubator with tenant space, but through a natural progression the partnership with RCC blossomed and we now plan to provide more services than we originally intended,” said Icard.
The long term goal is to grow businesses in the new facility and then have them move to what Icard hopes will be an industrial park in the same area.
“Ultimately we want more local business, and we want those businesses spending dollars in our community,” added Icard.
Icard is already in the process of lining up tenants for the new space, and while it is not filled yet, he does expect competition.
The project’s initial funds came from an $800,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce – Economic Development Administration and from a $200,000 grant received by the county development corporation from the Golden Leaf Foundation earlier this year. The project also received a boost last month when it was awarded $85,000 in grant funding from the North Carolina Rural Center.
That grant money will mean that more of the money that the small business center eventually brings in will be reinvested.
“Because we are able to use grant funding, money that we do bring in will go right back into the process,” said Icard.
In addition to moving several offices to the new facility, Richmond Community College will add a staff member to work in the building in support of the other offices that will be housed there.
“This is an expression of RCC’s commitment to the people of Scotland County,” said RCC President Dale McInnis.
“We are excited to be a part of this.”
Laurinburg Mayor Tommy Parker called the pairing of RCC and local governments a “winning combination” and said that he expects the incubation facility, which was modeled on a similar facility in Bladen County, to exceed the success of that model.
“I feel like we will be more successful than they have been with time,” said Parker.
Scotland County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Davis cited the groundbreaking as evidence of the forward looking attitude of the board.
“This is more proof that we do have long range plans and dreams,” said Davis.