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Rowan IDEA Center announces plans for entrepreneurship, small business labs

Special to the Post

SALISBURY — A unique partnership among government, academia and private sector leaders in Rowan County to build an innovation center to support new ventures and small business growth will be discussed in detail Thursday.

Called The Rowan IDEA Center, the labs would be housed at the West End Plaza, now owned by the county. The space, originally the Salisbury Mall, would become educational and training labs and rented office and prototype workspace. The center would be located between the former Belk store and the food court at the original mall.

“Local business innovation and start-ups are as important as the recruiting of large outside businesses,” said Greg Edds, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. “It’s not one or the other. … It’s both. We’re working to create a new economic ecosystem that supports and encourages new business startups, incubation and expansion.”

Wes Bray and Mickey Goodman of e2Advisors, a South Carolina consulting agency, will present the plans at the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce’s Power in Partnership breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Thursday at Trinity Oaks, 728 Klumac Road.

Reservations are required. Individual reservations are welcome; the reservation deadline is Tuesday by 5 p.m. The cost is $15 for members and $25 for non-members and includes breakfast. Contact the Chamber for information on reservations at 704-633-4221 or info@rowanchamber.com.

The “town-gown” connection is particularly unique in Rowan and appealing to Bray, who also works with Catawba College on its Center for Entrepreneurship and Experiential Development (CEED), now 2.5 years old.

Catawba’s on-campus incubator works with students to promote their creative business ideas. If a student’s idea for a business has sufficient merit, it is admitted into the program and the student receives financial assistance and business advice.

Catawba can only support the business idea while the student is active. “After graduation, he or she has no place to go,” said Bray. The Rowan County IDEA Center would change that. Catawba, Livingstone and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College are expected to play active roles in the new venture.

The IDEA Center is an acronym for Innovation, Development, Entrepreneurship and Acceleration. An executive committee, recently named, includes Mikey Wetzel, president; Tim Norris, vice president; and Elaine Spalding, secretary/treasurer.

The Chamber is coordinating Phase I and received $145,000 from the Rowan County Board of Commissioners in initial funding to launch the plan and provide time for further development and fundraising. The entire plan, to be built in phases over a three-year period, has a budget of $3.9 million and is expected to be self-sustaining by the end of three years, Bray said.

Commissioners have a goal of creating a positive atmosphere for countywide economic growth, job creation and an enhanced quality of life. The Chamber identified the importance of entrepreneurship, Bray said.

The EDC is focused on creating new businesses, jobs and a broader and more diversified tax base. The Ketner School of Business at Catawba College and Livingstone College have both launched entrepreneurship initiatives and are interested in extending their programs, he said.

“The IDEA Center is unique in that the vision is already in place, along with under-utilized available space,” Bray said. “The Chamber has the drive to make this happen.”

Norris, chairman of the Chamber board of directors, said too many students now leave the county. “This can evolve to benefit everybody,” he said. “We have a history of entrepreneurship in Rowan County. The spirit is here. The challenge is in taking the next steps to leverage this entrepreneurial spirit and grow local talent.”

Benefits include new jobs and small business growth, a proactive program to reduce poverty and joblessness, attraction of new talent in Rowan County, new educational opportunities —  programming, workshops, radio and TV broadcast facilities; enhanced quality of life with new opportunities; programming to deter young people from leaving Rowan County; and a community activity center that uses the West End Plaza as a valuable community asset.

Phase 1 of the center would be The Venture Lab, which would manage and implement the Education Program, the Incubator and Accelerator and the IDEA Mentor Network. It is expected to be completed in 2018.

The lab would develop and host a High School Business Start-Up and Innovation initiative.

The educational element ranges from how you identify an opportunity, build a brand and market yourself to raising capital, handling legal matters and hiring people, Bray said.

It would occupy 11,000 square feet of dedicated space and include meeting spaces, offices/cubicles for new ventures, offices for mentor meetings, conference rooms, administration offices, common space and “storefronts” for business support vendors drawn to the center, such as accounting, legal and graphic design.

Other components of the IDEA Center would include:

• The Co-Working Center for solo entrepreneurs and small business start-ups, consisting of rentable office and cubicle space, conference rooms and basic office services. A revenue generator, it would be ideal for small start-ups and home professionals ready for the next step, Bray said.


• A Digital Media Studio with state-of-the-art media production studios for both educational and commercial projects. The Ketner Center of Business at Catawba College would be the primary driver of this component.

Catawba is launching a new digital media program. Initial plans call for two recording studios with all necessary digital cameras, lighting and audio equipment, a control room for each studio with monitors and control equipment, a modern editing suite with state-of-the-art editing equipment, a transmission room with computers and broadcast equipment, two classrooms/conference areas, and a “talent lounge” and backroom storage.

• The Rowan Prototype Space, or “maker space,” would be equipped to facilitate prototype development, model construction and light manufacturing. It would support new ventures and other local small businesses on a rental basis.

The initial plan calls for individual work benches that can be rented on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, with offices for staff to teach operational safety and to oversee daily operations. Tool capabilities planned include large format printing, 3D modeling, small scale metal/wood/plastic cutting and forming, basic electrical, and a small paint booth.

• The IDEA Café, a coffee and gathering place, would be a key to establishing and facilitating a creative and innovative culture, Bray said.

“The physical location is terrific,” said Norris. “This is going to be a hub of activity. It will encourage new, aspiring entrepreneurs to seek out and receive the mentoring and initial reassurances needed to take the next steps. This will allow entrepreneurial dreams to become reality.

“It will be a source of education for adults on how to think smarter about their businesses. It’s part of a larger effort to grow Rowan County, with rebranding and airport expansion. It’s a call to action for budding entrepreneurs and mentors.”

For more information contact Addison Davis, IDEA Center Program Manager, 704-633-4221, or adavis@rowanchamber.



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