When the ribbon is cut to open the new Small Business Innovation Center next week, it will signal a new era in economic development for Scotland County, officials say.
“For the county, this represents a new approach to things. It’s the foundation of what we are now doing,” said Greg Icard, economic development director for the county.
It was only 10 months ago that representatives of Scotland County, Laurinburg and Richmond Community College gathered in a cotton field off US 401 in Laurinburg to break ground on the project.
On that day officials held specially made signs bearing the seals of each entity as they posed for photographs. Just last week Icard, joined by contractor Chuck Witmore, attached those same seals to the bright red wall which will greet visitors to the center as they enter the building’s lobby.
Representing an unprecedented partnership between the city, the county and RCC, Icard said that others from around the state will be watching closely to see if the joint venture is a success.
“There are quite a few entities that are looking at this as a potential model to be replicated elsewhere,” Icard said.
Itself based partly on a similar facility in Bladen County, Icard said that the Laurinburg center is original in that it will house staff from RCC and offer education of local entrepreneurs and small business owners.
The approximately 14,000-square-foot center will be the new home of the RCC Career Readiness Training director, the Industrial Workforce Training director and the Small Business Center Coordinator, as well as the county’s economic development offices.
Icard has already relocated most of his office to the building and the RCC staff members are expected to begin moving in soon. RCC will also hire a new employee to work in the front office area of the building.
Local start-ups and entrepreneurs can see their business shepherded from its infancy to full bloom in the new facility, Icard said.
In addition to business training opportunities, the center will also offer a revolving loan fund for businesses in their third to fifth years and “small amounts” of startup capital for new businesses.
“This is a more aggressive, pro-active approach. And it also has the potential to bring in industry.”
One way the center is expected to immediately attract industry is the tenant space included in the center.
With two 4,000 square foot spaces for industry to rent built into the center, the facility is capable of becoming self-sufficient in short order.
Once established, Icard said that he believes the center will become the foundation of a future industrial park.
“The plan is for this to be the anchor of our industrial park,” Icard said.
If all goes according to that plan, the ribbon cutting next Friday will be just the beginning, with many businesses – and jobs – to follow.
In the effort to attract businesses, the center is expected to also be a recruiting tool. When representatives of businesses interested in relocating to the area visit the new center, they will be welcomed by a state-of-the-art facility replete with evidence of the county’s past and present industrial success.
On nearly every wall in the building can be found historical photos, representing every aspect of Scotland County’s past.
And in a large conference room evidence of the county’s present success takes practical shape.
The massive glass conference table in the room is topped with two sheets of glass courtesy of Pilkington, stabilized with two axle casings built by Meritor for military vehicles and balanced on two railway rails from the Laurinburg and Southern Railroad.
“It will absolutely be a recruiting asset,” Icard said. “It already has been,” he added, alluding to ongoing industrial recruitment work.
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.
The Small Business Innovation Center will open on March 8 with a ceremony expected to attract 70 guests, including local, state and federal officials.