‘We want to grow our own’: Spencer talks business incubator project

Published 12:07 am Thursday, May 26, 2022

SPENCER — The Town of Spencer has been on the move recently and people in the county have noticed.

The small town, far from its glory days as a rail town thriving on the rail shops that turned into the North Carolina Transportation Museum, has been trying to become what Mayor Jonathan Williams has called “a model small town.”

The town recently moved out of its old town hall — an old rail dorm — and into a freshly renovated space in Park Plaza. The town is preparing to go to bid on a trail head project at Wil-Cox bridge and is working on a new centerpiece town park and event space in front of its town hall as well.

The town has taken on smaller successes as well: adding a signature holiday event, increasing the fire department’s ISO rating and creating a new grant program.

Now the new proposed budget for the town presented on Tuesday includes the mention of using $25,000 in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to seed a business incubator program. The project is listed as one of the ideas for using the more than $1 million in ARPA funding awarded to the town.

Williams said he sees the entire list as critical needs for the town but took some time during the Tuesday meeting to talk about the incubator project.

“We did have money programmed in I think for our business grant program, and what you’ll see is this has changed a bit,” Williams said.

He said the town has had discussions about an incubator and partnering with the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce as well as the county government.

“What we’ve expressed to those folks is that we have a very, very strong need here in our community for a program that can provide work space for startup businesses and can also provide programs that really work to mentor and train these business owners,” Williams said.

Williams said what the town does not want is for businesses to open, not have the support and acumen they need and shutter within a year. The program would provide small spaces for entrepreneurs starting out without the capital investment of purchasing their own facility. He said the town wants to grow its own businesses.

“What we want are businesses that are going to come in, that are going to be a part of the community, that they’re going to grow within the community and, ideally that eventually they grow beyond our community,” Williams said.

The town toured the business incubator in Concord and pointed to a similar program in Winston-Salem as well.

Williams said the incubator would provide public seminars for existing local business people to take advantage of, and the town is just starting to plan for what the program would look like. Williams said the town’s new leasable space in Park Plaza is an option for hosting a program like this, adding he thinks the program could inspire other people in Rowan County to step up and partner with the town.

“To have Spencer as ground zero would be really, really beneficial,” Williams said.

Town Manager Peter Franzese said he received a call from the Cabarrus County Chamber of Commerce president on Monday after seeing Spencer highlighted in a grant announcement from the Duke Energy Foundation and asked about what the town is doing with the program,

“It was just neat to hear they’re looking to Spencer for ideas,” Franzese.

Williams recalled a conversation about business incubation with Rowan Chamber President Elaine Spalding.

“She said with this concept what we’re really looking for is to find that next Food Lion for Rowan County,” Williams said.

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About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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