Pembroke picked for innovative project


Among 5 selected by N.C. State in NC

Pembroke has been selected as one of five North Carolina towns to participate in a North Carolina State University initiative to boost innovation throughout the state.

NC State’s Institute for Emerging Issues announced the selected towns on Friday.

“All 18 applicant communities had terrific ideas and vision,” said Anita Brown-Graham, director of the Institute for Emerging Issues. “The five InnovateNC communities were selected because each has the right mix of assets, is fully committed to collective impact and to making major gains in building and sustaining innovation, and is ready to engage in the collaborative. IEI and our partners look forward to working with these communities over the next two years.”

The university describes InnovateNC as “an intensive, two-year cross-city learning collaborative” and “a first-in-the-nation effort to spark innovation-centered economic development.” The project is intended to encourage innovation and economic development outside of the Research Triangle Park and North Carolina’s other metropolitan centers.

“The town of Pembroke is elated to be a part of the inaugural InnovateNC learning collaborative,” said Pembroke Town Manager Tyler Thomas. “We believe this program is the impetus our community needs to create positive energy around entrepreneurship and innovation, ultimately resulting in job creation. We also believe local InnovateNC success can and will be a model for the rest of rural North Carolina.”

The project is expected to yield about $250,000 in services for each participating community, which must contribute $15,000 as a local match. Asheville, Greensboro, Wilmington and Wilson were also selected to join the program’s inaugural class.

James Woods, director of the Entrepreneurship Incubator at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, said the program “will bring a lot of needed resources to Pembroke.”

“With the assistance of InnovateNC’s partners, UNC Pembroke, and the community, the Town of Pembroke is poised for sustained entrepreneurial growth,” he said.

According to Woods, a “strategic plan” will be created using information about the town, which Pembroke can use to apply for grants. The project also brings marketing opportunities — UNC-TV will produce segments on local entrepreneurs.

“I think that is what’s really most exciting to people,” Woods said. “And it’s really going to raise the profile of Pembroke.”

Cammie Hunt, associate vice chancellor of Engaged Outreach for UNCP, said the Entrepreneurship Incubator will be the “innovation anchor of the community.”

“UNC Pembroke is committed to working with the Town of Pembroke to create an innovation hub that will energize and stimulate entrepreneurship within the town and surrounding communities,” Hunt said.

Pembroke’s application was submitted by The University of North Carolina at Pembroke in collaboration with the town of Pembroke, Lumbee Regional Development Association, Lumbee Tribe and local business leaders.

Pembroke’s application touted its entrepreneurial resources, diversity and heritage.

Through the program, the selected towns will be connected with public, private and nonprofit partners including NC State’s Institute for Emerging Issues and College of Design; Forward Impact; the UNC System; Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy; UNC Chapel Hill’s Kenan Institute for Private Enterprise and Department of Public Policy; RTI International; UNC-TV; the Council for Entrepreneurial Development; the Research Triangle Foundation; and the NC Board of Science, Technology & Innovation.

Each participating community will form an Innovation Council and will host site tours as well as meetings on networking, mapping local assets, data collection, grant opportunities and policy analysis. The local councils will begin meeting this fall.

“Innovation is the modern economy’s fuel,” the InnovateNC website says. “… To grow the economy and improve North Carolinians’ economic well-being, we must increase our overall ability to be innovative, and spread that ability to as many NC communities as possible. Communities lacking innovation strength will experience comparatively lagging GDP growth, average annual wages, and per-capita personal income.”

Submissions were evaluated on strength of current efforts, organizational capacity, local partners, and ability to participate in evaluation efforts.

Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.