Rowan IDEA Center asks City Council for funding

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 13, 2019

SALISBURY — The Rowan IDEA Center requested $125,000 per year from the city to launch its incubator during the City Council retreat Tuesday.

Addison Davis, executive director of the IDEA Center, and Brad Walser, vice president of the center’s foundation, spoke about the need for funding to ensure Salisbury is an entrepreneurial hub.

The two asked council members to consider giving the IDEA Center $125,000 per year for six years. They have also requested that Rowan County provide $125,000 as well.

“It’s a long road, and the same thing is here for the IDEA Center,” Davis said. “It’s not three years for profitability for a co-working operation. It’s five years, 10 years, even 20 years down the road because this is a continuing economic development. It is a cultural change activity that we are utilizing to move our community forward.”

Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield said she is an IDEA Center supporter but questioned the work the center has done since its creation. The center began its programming in January 2018.

“How do we know this is the right thing for us?” Sheffield asked. “I hear you say that we have existing businesses. When I hear incubator, I hear nonexisting businesses. So how do we know as Rowan County that an incubator, an IDEA Center, is right for those people out there?”

Davis responded surrounding major cities have incubators.

“If we don’t do this, we will be left behind,” he said. “Why do I say that? If you look around us, if you look at Charlotte, you look at Davidson, you look at Greensboro, you look at Raleigh, you look at Winston-Salem, all these communities have incubators.”

Davis said Gastonia, Wilson and Goldsboro, which are cities of a similar size to Salisbury, have incubators as well.

The Rowan center can draw from surrounding areas, especially as the train station grows, he said.

Mayor Pro Tem David Post said incubators have a low success rate but provide support for a few break-out businesses.

“You’re hoping for one or two big wins and are providing the environment for that,” Post said. “It may not happen, but if it happens, you end up with a Food Lion or a Cheerwine.”

Post agreed with Davis that Salisbury is a great home for an incubator because of its geography and its broadband service.

Councilman Brian Miller proposed that the Rowan IDEA Center focus on leveraging to persuade the city and county to provide funding. He said having a matching campaign in which the center receives $1 from the private sector and $2 from the public sector could help the two government entities follow the lead of the public.

Sheffield asked about how grants play a role in the IDEA Center. Davis said the center has captured several grants, adding that in order to secure grants, the center has to have active participation to ensure the program “has legs.”

Miller spoke about the role the incubator could have for students, saying when he was in high school, it didn’t occur to him that he could be an entrepreneur.

Geoffrey Hoy said the center could give high school students a platform to think about becoming a business owner.

The IDEA Center has a pitch contest that works with seven Rowan-Salisbury high schools. It also offers monthly workshops and roundtable mentoring sessions.

Davis and Walser presented two proposals to the council. The first is that the city provide $125,000 for six years for operating expenses. The second is that the city provide $125,000 per year for two years and the center would move into the Empire Hotel once the development is completed.

The City Council did not decide whether it would provide the funding or which proposal it prefers by the conclusion of the retreat Tuesday.