The historic buggy factory building in Carthage is being eyed as a potential “entrepreneurial hub” that would serve as a one-stop shop for new businesses.
“The best way to bring more business to Moore County is to create it, to encourage it,” said Pat Corso, executive director of Partners in Progress (PIP). “The question then is how can we create new opportunities and play a role in integrating these businesses?”
Last March, Moore County and PIP received an $80,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration to evaluate the feasibility of an entrepreneurial hub in northern Moore. Eligibility for this grant program was tied to federally declared disaster areas following hurricanes Florence and Michael in 2018. Other partners in the project include the towns of Carthage and Robbins, UNC at Pembroke, Sandhills Community College, and NC’s Southeast Partnership. (A 2-page summary of the feasibility study is available here.)
Crystal Morphis, founder and CEO of Creative Economic Development Consulting, worked with a seven-member steering committee. They analyzed the labor force and “talent pipeline” for the hub from the surrounding 12-county area and presented the results during the PIP board meeting in early January.
“We think the buggy factory has great potential,” Morphis said, though she cautioned the hub would not be a quick fix. “This will be a slower process.”
The goal for the hub would be to provide space and resources as a business incubator to foster entrepreneurial development, ultimately creating new jobs, she said. Robbins was considered, but Carthage was deemed to be a more suitable, centralized location that could bridge the northern and southern ends of Moore County.
The South Ray Street building that once housed part of the Tyson & Jones Buggy Co. was purchased by the town for $46,000 in early 2015. It has “great historical and architectural features,” Corso said, and is within easy walking distance to public parking, other historic properties, and the downtown shopping district.
“There is a cool factor to it,” Corso said.
The study also zeroed in on Moore County’s strong banking sector for its support of small businesses, the concentration of wealth in the southern end, and number of retired and semi-retired professionals that might invest in start-ups, and a broad workforce from the northern and southern ends of the county.
Morphis said the number of self-employed individuals and number of new businesses across Moore County has steadily increased in recent years.
“This shows this is a good market for entrepreneurship,” Morphis said.
Restoring the buggy factory building is estimated to cost in the $625,000 to $675,000 range. That does not include operational expenses, which were projected to require $50,000 in working capital for the first three years.
Carthage plans to submit an application for Community Development Block Grant. If the town qualifies as “distressed,” the grant could be approved with an 80/20 match. Otherwise, it would require a 50/50 equal match to move forward.
Corso predicted it will be at least six to nine months before the state responds to the town’s application. Other next-step recommendations outlined by Morphis included partnering with the Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub as an affiliate, and coordinating with the Small Business Center at Sandhills Community College and/or Partners in Progress for initial staffing, support and business counseling services.
(Original story by Laura Douglass, The Pilot)