Tech Startups Could Play a Key Role Here
The writer is executive director of Moore County Partners in Progress.
By Pat Corso
Special to The Pilot
The accompanying article, although “urban” in its subject and context, is more relevant to Moore County than one might think.
This being the graduation season, we celebrate our best and brightest as they move on. Although as parents we want them to, we probably don’t give much thought at the time to our hope that they might someday return, bringing their talents back home.
The desire to leave is natural, but the ability to create the opportunities that can bring them back is our responsibility.
There has been much written in The Pilot recently about efforts to create an innovative and vibrant entrepreneurial environment. The model that we at Partners in Progress have been following is found in Durham.
Their success is in developing centers for technology incubation (life sciences and gaming) at the American Underground in the Tobacco Warehouse District and business incubation (for profit and nonprofit) at Bull City Forward.
Both of these models are located in downtown locations, which introduce a spirit of innovation and enthusiasm that not too many years ago would have been thought impossible.
As improbable as it may seem, we have the opportunity to do the same thing here in Moore County. We have several technology companies here now, including Meridian Zero Degrees in Aberdeen, Accelerated Technology Laboratories in West End , ATEX in Pine Bluff, and Hirease and Southern Software in Southern Pines.
All of these were startup companies founded by local entrepreneurs. We can also use the model to create startups in other fields, including business and the arts. (More on that another time.)
These companies and many others like them started here and want to stay here. However, when we asked them their single most important issue, their answer was, “We can’t find qualified employees.”
This has forced some local companies to open “satellite” operations in Raleigh and others to recruit qualified talent from as far away as Charleston, S.C. They come for two or three weeks, go home for two weeks, then come back again.
One local company literally recruits scientists from India and other countries, as we simply aren’t turning out enough from our own universities.
Recently, Partners in Progress sponsored a “summit” with Sandhills Community College to begin a dialogue to address their needs through new curriculum and training.
The conversation between the two groups was stunning, as neither was aware of the other’s respective needs or the resources available. This led to a conversation with Dr. John Dempsey, SCC president, during our annual baseball spring-training sojourn regarding ways to address their issues.
Creating a “pipeline” of talented locals for those existing companies and attracting similar companies led to an idea.
It builds on the Moore County school system’s recent dramatic success in being named the recipient of the very competitive multimillion-dollar Mebane Grant for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) infusion training.
Selected teachers at the elementary, middle and high school levels will be trained through innovative career preparation and professional development.
The “idea,” then, is to consider creating a technology/ medical high school, a possible STEM-focused “magnet” school.
It could be designed to provide such things as “early college,” associate degrees upon graduation, medical and technology internships, etc., not unlike similar schools primarily found in metropolitan areas.
Ours would be unique for a rural community and provide us with an incredibly valuable arrow in our economic development quiver.
Partners in Progress has hired Christopher Gergen and Bull City Forward to conduct a feasibility study over the next four months to determine our ability to become a center for rural innovation and entrepreneurship.
A cross section of community “stakeholders” will be involved in this process, with a final report and plan of action by the end of September.
Jim Goodmon, owner of Capital Broadcasting, the Durham Bulls and the Tobacco Warehouse District, and a local homeowner, recently told me to always remember that “economic development is community development.” Nothing we can do is more important in rebuilding our local economy, attracting young professionals and giving our kids a reason to come home.
More like this story