Scotland County’s dream of a one-stop shop for local industry, small businesses and entrepreneurs is close to become a reality, with a completion date for the county’s Small Business Innovation Center set for mid-February.
Delayed from its original November completion target date because of three straight weeks of rain during the summer, construction has been steady since it moved indoors, according to County Economic Development Director Greg Icard.
While Icard is unable to make any announcements, he is “very confident that the facility will have a tenant on day one” for the large industrial space that makes up half of the design.
That large industrial tenant space is part of what makes the innovation center’s model self-sustaining.
“This will become a revenue stream for the county,” Icard said.
Located in what earlier this year was a field off of US 401, the facility is a collaborative project of Scotland County, the city of Laurinburg and Richmond Community College.
The project’s initial funds came from an $800,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce – Economic Development Administration and from a $200,000 grant received by the county development corporation from the Golden Leaf Foundation earlier this year. The project also received $85,000 in grant funding from the North Carolina Rural Center.
More than 10,000 square feet when completed, the building now has exterior and interior lighting and drywall. In the coming weeks the walls will be finished and painted and furniture will be installed.
An example of the long-term planning that Icard said should have been done “ten years ago” and which he hopes will come to characterize his tenure as economic developer in Scotland County, the innovation center will serve as both a center for education as well as a showpiece in the recruitment of new industry.
“The center will be a resource for local businesses as well as a place to find new people and to assist them in the early stages of growth,” said Icard of the project that has bordered on an obsession for him over the past two years.
“I have been involved in the planning of almost every detail of the center,” said Icard, who speaks as passionately about the savings he was able to find by shopping for an office desk at Ikea as he does about his latest industrial recruitment project.
“We have tried to buy American when furnishing the center whenever we could and we have tried to find savings wherever we could so that the money is spent in the right places.”
“Have you ever seen how expensive board room tables are?” Icard asks rhetorically. “$8,000.”
Turning what might have been a big ticket folly into a jewel of the facility, the table in the center’s large board room will be made of components from local industry – including a thick glass tabletop from the Scotland County Pilkington plant.
The board room will be shared by the building’s tenant and others utilizing the center upon its completion.
“There are going to be items from area industry on display all over,” Icard said.
“We will also have a walk through history of Scotland County, so that people can see the progression from the old textile industry to the modern advanced business we have here today.
“We want people to come in here and have a sense of our past and present and for them to see our future and where we are headed.”
When touring representative of companies interested in investing in Scotland County, Icard said the hope is that they can imagine themselves somewhere in that vision of the future.
The Small Business Innovation Center will house relocated staff from RCC’s small business education facilities in Rockingham and will include an educational component that will feature career-readiness education as well as guest lecturers.
Those guest lecturers will be simulcast on the web thanks to the technological infrastructure being installed to wirelessly stream video to the Internet, and to the center’s upcoming website.
In support of small and growing businesses, Icard said that the center will also facilitate a revolving capital loan program to assist them as they expand in the community.
Scotland County is committed to funding the center in its current form for 20 years, and in those 20 years Icard hopes that the center will stand as the hub of an industrial park.
“This is a great jumping off spot for so much,” Icard said, standing in front of the brick and mortar manifestation of what was once only a file on his computer hard drive.
“There are actually only two other buildings in the country made this way. It’s a much better product that you see in a lot of other metal buildings,” says Icard.