Column by Pat Corso, Executive Director of Moore County Partners in Progress
As we are all aware, there are numerous challenges to successful economic development in rural northern Moore County.
The towns of Robbins, and to a lesser degree Carthage, in the northern half are geographically removed from the robust economic activity in southern Moore. Both towns lack substantial economic catalysts, and Robbins in particular sees very little direct benefit from the southern end’s prosperity.
Partners in Progress (PIP) is the nonprofit economic development organization serving all of Moore County. From our perspective, one challenge is how to recruit new industries to locate in the northern half when the area lacks high-capacity water and sewer service and has no natural gas service. We know that many manufacturing industries require these utilities. This, in turn, is a tremendous obstacle to the creation of any kind of industrial park or the construction of a shell building in northern Moore. Without viable buildings or sites to offer, any efforts to locate manufacturing clients, and the jobs they create, in northern Moore County are greatly impeded.
In addition to those challenges, northern Moore, especially Robbins, is also still experiencing lingering economic adversity as a direct result of the extensive, detrimental impacts of both Hurricanes Florence and Michael that hit almost back-to-back in 2018.
Even with these limitations, however, there are other viable economic development options to consider. Both Carthage and Robbins have their own unique assets and are well-suited for economic growth.
In 2017, we completed our Moore County Economic Development Strategic Plan based on input gathered from residents across the County, including the northern half. The Plan identified four key focus areas — entrepreneurship, life sciences, golf industries, and manufacturing — as significant opportunities for growth and development in the County.
We believe a major key to changing the economic future of northern Moore County is through the creation of new businesses. Generating economic opportunities organically from within these communities will promote economic resiliency, diversity and revitalization.
As a result, the idea to create an entrepreneurship hub was born. Before we jumped in headfirst, we knew that the first step would be to do a feasibility study to determine the viability of the hub concept and whether it would even work in Carthage or Robbins.
PIP applied for and was recently awarded a federal disaster relief grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) that will help pay for 80% of the costs to conduct a countywide assessment of Moore County’s current entrepreneurial ecosystem as well as complete the feasibility study.
So what is a “hub”? A hub is a facility that can offer physical space and a wide variety of support services to entrepreneurs. Physically it could provide:
- Incubation space for short- and long-term occupancy at reduced rent;
- Conference and meeting rooms to encourage collaboration;
- Maker space for creating prototypes (equipped with 3D printers and other tools); and
- Public meeting space to encourage local business, governmental and academic leaders to engage with entrepreneurs.
Support services could include:
- Consulting assistance with developing business concepts and structure, and determining the feasibility of business plans;
- Assistance with marketing, sales, funding, financial management, and other components of operating a business;
- Direct access to service providers such as the SBA, SCORE, SBTDC, SCC Small Business Center, etc.;
- Programs and workshops to help startups handle issues and build businesses; and
- Networking events for building relationships with successful business leaders and mentors.
We also envision the potential for a partnership with SCC and UNC Pembroke to enhance the hub’s credibility, success, and access to resources.
The hub would not only be available to those talented entrepreneurs located in northern Moore, but also an additional goal is that the hub would attract talent from southern Moore, particularly military, and thus plant the seed for these entrepreneurs to possibly locate their businesses in northern Moore. At the very least, the hub has the potential to create more synergy between the two ends of the county.
PIP has contracted with Creative Economic Development Consulting (CEDC) to complete the ecosystem assessment and the feasibility study. They have already started this work which will take about 5 months to complete. The resulting report will provide their recommendations about whether or not to proceed with the hub, and if yes, then what the best way is to do it.
To start the project, CEDC recommended that a local Steering Committee be formed to provide input and review drafts of the assessment and study. The following business leaders, most of whom are entrepreneurs themselves, have agreed to serve on the Committee: Hugh Bingham, Aaron Cooper, Cameron Cruse, Andi Korte, Micah Niebauer, Neil Wolfe, and David Woronoff. Each member has unique expertise, and we look forward to their involvement.
So what happens next after the feasibility study is completed? Assuming that the study will indicate the hub is a good idea, the next step would be to apply for a second grant from the EDA for constructing the hub, either as a new building or renovating an existing one. Because it can take several months for the EDA to award a grant, we estimate that construction/renovation would begin in late 2021 or early 2022.
Fostering entrepreneurial development and creating new businesses in northern Moore through the hub can lead to the creation of new jobs, new tax base, and stimulate additional economic opportunities. We look forward to what this could mean not just for northern Moore, but for all of Moore County.