The ribbon was cut on Friday to open the new Small Business Innovation Center only moments after it was announced that the facility already has a multinational tenant for its industrial space.
Located off US 401 in Laurinburg, the Small Business Innovation Center was designed to be a one-stop shop for businesses at all stages of their development. The facility will house staff from Richmond Community College and will offer educational opportunities as well as facilitate funding for startup and early-stage small businesses.
It will also serve as the home of the Scotland County Economic Development Corporation and the office of its Director Greg Icard.
Nearly 100 people, including local, state and federal officials, attended the ceremony in the center’s two large classrooms.
RCC President William McInnis said that RCC’s involvement in the center should serve as a symbol of the college’s commitment to Scotland County.
“We are trying to send the signal that we are fully committed to Scotland County, even though our base campus is in Hamlet. The Honeycutt Center was one step and this is the next step,” McInnis said.
In addition to relocating staff RCC will also create a new position, hiring a receptionist for the new building.
“We’ve already had folks offering customized training for small business … now they will be in one place, in this great building,” said McInnis, who recalled sketching out plans for the center on a napkin with Icard in the Gill House Restaurant.
Serving as the instigator of the innovation center project, Icard said that he was pleased to announce that the facility will have a tenant for its large incubator space from day one.
The international label making company CCL, which is the world’s largest maker of labels for consumer products, will move into the space, initially bringing five new jobs and about $200,000 in new investment. CCL is moving to the area to serve the Unilever company.
“(CCL) will look to add a second shift in the future and in the long term look to build another building, with more production there as well,” Icard said. “This is a relationship that is mutually beneficial. They needed the space and we had it.”
Being able to announce a tenant on day one serves to validate the project, which aims to eventually become self-supporting as the industrial park around it grows.
“This was more of a recruitment tool and we were able to bring in a very large company,” Icard said.
The good news did not end there. It was also announced during the ribbon cutting festivities that FCC would also be expanding its operations in the county to include a facility adjacent to the new innovation center.
It was announced last year that FCC would be moving into the county shell building, but that plan changed recently and FCC decided to expand their Laurel Hill facility and add the new building on Highway 401.
As announced last year, the project will still bring about 66 new jobs, but with the expansion FCC will be investing about $20 million more than initially planned.
“It will be $78 million of investment as opposed to $57.6 and there will be a new building next door,” said Icard, calling the announcements the “culmination of a lot of hard work.”
“This is a new approach from what we have done in the past,” Icard said of the new facility. “We have now diversified our economic development approach and we are being more proactive in recruiting industry.”
The new structure itself will actually serve as a key tool in recruiting new business, as it will include photos and artifacts both from the county’s textile-heavy past and from its current base of industry.
“When (representatives of businesses considering Scotland County) come in they will get to learn about the history of the county as well as where we are currently and they will also see where we are headed.
“And we are going to have more good news soon,” Icard said.
A proponent of the joint effort between Scotland County, the City of Laurinburg and RCC that made the center possible, Laurinburg Mayor Tommy Parker said that the importance of fact that the project was actually completed should not be understated.
“It’s not just an idea now. It’s an idea that has come to fruition. It proves that this can work. And that the collaboration we are going to have to help people establish a business is pretty much unparalleled,” Parker said. “This is a major step in the direction of (improving our economy).”
Speaking in agreement with Parker, 8th District Representative Richard Hudson said that the center shows prospective industry “the can-do attitude of this community.”
“For people looking to locate a business here, it’s a good sign that this is the kind of place they can grow their business.”
The Small Business Innovation Center is also of great practical importance, as evidenced by the fact that it has already attracted an industrial tenant, Hudson said.
“From a practical side, this is a great way to get small businesses started, too. Those are businesses that will eventually become job creators themselves.”
Despite having notoriously high unemployment, Scotland County can now serve as an example of the way forward, added Hudson.
“We don’t need to only look at attracting businesses from outside. We need to look at growing businesses at home. Our people here are the most committed to the community.”
The project’s initial funds came from an $800,000 grant 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 $85,000 in grant funding from the North Carolina Rural Center.
The Golden Leaf money was presented during Friday’s celebration in the form of a large ceremonial check.