Partners Readying New Initiative for Entrepreneurs
BY TED M. NATT JR.
Traditional economic development is difficult in rural North Carolina.
"The new way to do it is identify the assets and talent in your community and provide entrepreneurs three key things: access to capital, mentorship and shared office space," said Pat Corso, executive director of Moore County Partners in Progress.
Corso has worked with the owners of the former Razook's building in downtown Pinehurst to secure space at reduced rent to establish a business incubator as part of Moore Forward, a new initiative designed to attract entrepreneurs in the wellness, technology and military industries.
Partners in Progress is hosting a "launch" party for Moore Forward from 6-7:30 p.m. on Jan. 15 at the Fair Barn in Pinehurst.
The purpose is twofold: expose entrepreneurs to the initiative and the space, and begin raising the $200,000 needed to operate Moore Forward in the first year.
"This is the culmination of everything we've done to date," Corso said. "We hope to get 200, 300, maybe 400 people. At the end of the night, we're going to know who's interested, and we'll have their contact information."
Partners will set up mock office space at the Fair Barn and show a video that includes testimonials from entrepreneurs in similar settings in Durham and Raleigh.
"The idea is to make this a unique event because we think the concept will have great appeal," Corso said.
Susan Purser, who chairs the Moore Forward board of advisers, said research conducted for the initiative suggests that sharing office space encourages mutual support.
"Because you're in it together," said Purser, who retired as superintendent of Moore County Schools earlier this year. "We want to introduce the notion of building a real community around people who have innovative ideas."
Matt West, CEO of Intangibles, in Pinehurst, presented Moore Forward earlier this month to a well-heeled group of professionals in the Triangle.
"It was a gathering of folks I felt was very appropriate to hear the message. The interest level in what we're doing was significant," said West, who lived in the Triangle from 1992 to 2010 and is the former vice president of business operations for the Carolina Hurricanes.
West said most of the 50 executives present "had never given a great deal of thought" to Moore County as a business development opportunity.
"Obviously, there's a lot of warm feelings from many Triangle business leaders about Moore County, especially Southern Pines and Pinehurst because of the U.S. Opens," West said. "Now, there's an awareness of what's happening in Moore County from a business development standpoint that they may have an interest in.
"Spreading the gospel of Moore Forward has been met with no push-back. I'm all-in with this effort. It has been a labor of love."
West believes that Moore Forward could also "close the gap" between Moore County and the Triad and Charlotte.
"We shouldn't let geographic distance be a limit to what we can achieve together," he said.
Corso, Purser and West agree that the fundraising effort is critical to the initiative's success.
"Obviously, we don't have $200,000 in our back pocket," Purser said.
Partners in Progress recently learned that it did not receive a grant from the Kauffman Foundation, but is still in the running for an Economic Innovation grant from the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center.
"These are the first of many different pleas for help," Corso said. "We're not asking for a handout. We're asking for partners."
Corso plans to seek assistance from county government and local municipalities in the future.
"But I want community buy-in and skin in the game before going to them," he said. "We're touching all the bases. My sense is that we will get a lot of interest."
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt @thepilot.com.
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