UNC Pembroke has received notice that a $932,000 federal grant was approved by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration to create a small business development project in downtown Pembroke.
The grant, when combined with a $200,000 grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation and $210,000 raised from private contributions, will purchase and renovate a 16,800 square-foot storefront building at 202 Main Street in downtown Pembroke to serve as a business incubator.
The incubator will provide space for eight to12 start-up businesses and may also provide shared resources, such as office machines and printers. The building will also house the offices of two UNCP business development programs—the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship and the Small Business and Technology Development Center.
With a planned opening in spring of 2015, the incubator is expected to produce 115 jobs and create private investment of $1.15 million within three years.
UNC Pembroke Chancellor Kyle R. Carter launched the Downtown Development Project in February 2012 with the purpose of achieving several important goals: It will 1) support small and start-up businesses, 2) bring the university and town closer together, 3) improve the downtown, and 4) give UNCP students hands-on experience in business and entrepreneurship. The project is his administration’s most aggressive outreach program.
“I have called this a transformative project—and for many good reasons,” Chancellor Carter said. “The Downtown Development Project is the best example of a university’s efforts to reach out to its external community.
“This will be a showcase building, and the business incubator, with the assistance of the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship and the Small Business and Technology Development Center, will create jobs for the local economy,” he continued.
“Additionally, this project extends our physical presence in the community, and it will increase town and gown interaction,” he said.
The Downtown Development Project’s importance in the region will be matched by its value to UNC Pembroke, in particular, the School of Business.
“This project opens up a world of opportunities for our faculty and students,” said Dr. Ken Kitts, UNC Pembroke’s provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs.
“The incubator as a learning laboratory will help students apply knowledge gained in the classroom and understand the dynamics of taking a business from concept to reality. And it gives faculty a venue where they can take instruction to a new level.”
The project represents the coming together of public and private funding. In addition to the federal grant, the project received money from North Carolina’s Golden Leaf Foundation, which funds projects in rural North Carolina communities affected by the loss of tobacco revenues, and the Thomas Family Foundation, which has supported entrepreneurship programs at UNC Pembroke.
“Participation in the UNCP Entrepreneurship Incubator will result in start-up businesses’ being launched as healthy, growing, and viable companies that create jobs and improve the region’s economic health,” said Dr. Cammie Hunt, UNC Pembroke’s associate vice chancellor for engaged outreach and the principal investigator of the EDA grant.
“In addition,” she continued, “access to personnel who can provide professional advice, train interns, and help locate resources will ensure that businesses receive guidance in accounting, advertising, graphic design, information technology, web design, and corporate management, in addition to financial, marketing, and legal services.”
Wendy Lowery, UNC Pembroke’s vice chancellor for advancement oversaw the effort to raise the private funds that are making the project possible.
“The private investors in this project truly believe in the mission of UNC Pembroke and the constituents who will be served by this initiative,” Lowery said. “Their support also signifies the importance of enhancing the partnership between the university and the Town of Pembroke and is an investment in both entities. This project truly epitomizes the strength of collaboration.”
In letters of support, the Town of Pembroke gave its “enthusiastic support” for an entrepreneurship incubator. “The university and its existing Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship have been invaluable to the economic improvement of Pembroke and its surrounding region,” said the town’s manager, Oryan Lowry.
Greg Cummings, Robeson County’s economic development director, acknowledged the need for support for startups as well as established businesses. “Having UNCP’s knowledgeable faculty as a resource, together with the creative, enthusiastic assistance of the university’s students, will provide a strong foundation to help our business community meet the challenges of this economically challenged community,” he said.
“The fact that this facility will be housed in the center of town, convenient to business owners, shows the respect the university has for the community and its commitment to supporting economic growth.”