Former U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre says the opening of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s new Entrepreneurship Incubator on Monday is a “dream come true” for the Robeson County area.
“We now have a center that combines education, economics and entrepreneurship. Put all of these things together and it helps strengthens job opportunities, for the county and region,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre, who is practicing law focusing on economic development, was among about 200 people — politicians, university officials and community leaders — who crowded into the new $1.2 million facility to celebrate the incubator’s long-awaited opening at 202 Main St.
The 17,000-square-foot center, which will house up to nine fledgling businesses — as well as the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship — is being trumpeted by university officials and others as more than just a place for providing start-up space, consulting services, educational seminars, workshops, mentorships and networking opportunities.
The incubator shares resources with the state’s Small Business and Technology Development Center and will provide business consultants to help entrepreneurs get their businesses up and running.
It is being singled out as a first step in Pembroke’s revitalization.
“This is a great day for Pembroke,” said Channing Jones, Pembroke’s mayor pro-tem. “We want to thank the university for making such an investment in Pembroke … This allows a start and hope for those hoping to invest in the region.”
Cammie Hunt, the university’s associate vice chancellor for Engaged Outreach, is credited as the driving force behind making the incubator a reality.
“We have been working on this for about six years,” she said. “The hardest part was to find the financial backers and obtaining grants. This was because we were selling just our vision.”
Hunt said that she anticipates that there will be plenty of entrepreneurs in the 10-county region, from the Sandhills to the coast, who will utilize the center and its offerings.
“There has been a lot of interest in the first stage (of the center’s development),” Hunt said. “Now we have to go out and find tenants so we can get going.”
Hunt emphasized the importance of state, federal and community support for the project. Major funding for the center came from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Golden LEAF Foundation, and a number of private donors.
Bo Biggs, a Lumberton businessman who sits on the board of the Golden LEAF Foundation, said the center will provide a great service to Robeson County and the surrounding region.
“This facility will offer a great chance for local entrepreneurs who have ideas that can help enhance the quality of all life,” Biggs said. “It will help innovate and fine tune new businesses that create new jobs and increase the tax base.”
UNCP Chancellor Robin Cummings said that the idea of a university entrepreneurship incubator is “not a new idea.”
“But I can think of no other region of the state that will benefit more than Southeastern North Carolina,” Cummings said.
Cummings said that UNCP plans to work in partnership with community colleges throughout the region to turn out a workforce “boasting of people with strong work ethic and creativity.”
Currently, applications are being accepted from those entrepreneurs who would like to set up shop at the incubator. Three types of memberships are available. A breakdown of the options can be viewed at uncp.edu/ei. Applications can also be downloaded from the website.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.