By Sam Funchess, CEO, and Lisa Hazlett, President, Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship
Many communities have struggled with the aftermath of industrial decline, as the large companies that supported residents, their quality of life, and community services for generations closed their massive facilities and left town — and in many cases, left the country.
Some have reacted by going “elephant hunting,” trying to replace the large companies they lost with new large companies — ones able to take over an entire building and instantly revitalize the area. But the loss of industrial jobs was not a local phenomenon; it was a product of global trends that affected our entire country.
And now, years later, many of those old buildings — once state-of-the-art facilities, bustling with activity — are obsolete and decaying. Skilled residents able to relocate, find work, and build lives elsewhere have done so. Community amenities supported by those large employers and thriving workforces have declined.
There are exceptions of course, but for every region that is able to jumpstart its economy by attracting a new Amazon headquarters, there are many, many others that are still waiting and hoping. Elephant hunting rarely works.
Revitalizing A Local Economy
For the Triad region in North Carolina, which includes Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem, and is among those that have faced the loss of industries like steel, tobacco, furniture, and textiles, a different approach is yielding excellent results and could be a model for other communities facing the same issues.
The Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship (NCFE), a nonprofit economic development organization in Greensboro, located in a building formerly owned and occupied by Carolina Steel, has been a magnet and supportive partner for entrepreneurs, assisting with services every young business needs to succeed and grow. Several thousand verified jobs have been created by companies that began at NCFE, and those companies have generated an estimated $100 million in revenue over the past decade. Also of note is that 74% of businesses currently in residence are Minority and Women Owned Businesses.
Supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses can have a tremendous payoff for their communities, eventually growing to become their own regional centers of job creation. We have seen many of these businesses become larger employers, creating their own economic centers of gravity, and paving the way for other companies in complementary fields.
Among our success stories is Guerrilla RF, which provides high performance integrated circuits for the wireless infrastructure market — and recently went public. Guerrilla RF’s success demonstrates the type of synergistic growth that’s possible, as the company works with wireless infrastructure equipment manufacturers — often larger companies — to provide greater coverage area and higher data rates.
NCFE is now launching a new facility — The Steelhouse — in a building that was formerly a Carolina Steel fabrication plant. The Steelhouse will be a one-of-a-kind ecosystem spanning 15-acres and poised to become a center of urban manufacturing and innovation. It will be a vibrant community comprised of entrepreneurs, small businesses, artisans, and support organizations, retaining its industrial look, while converting raw space into flexible and scalable manufacturing bays — and providing space for workforce training to support companies locating there and throughout the community.
Not every company is going to grow as large as Guerrilla RF — and they don’t have to. Small businesses are the foundation of our economy. They create jobs as well as energy and a positive mindset within the entire community. Everyone benefits by being in an area where the local economy is based on innovation and energetic new players, bringing great ideas to market.
Those areas that are building a foundation and positioning themselves for economic growth, with organizations and local businesses that support workforce attraction and retention and that nurture and become partners with new entrants into the market, are the ones that will take the lead in 2023 and beyond.
Funchess is CEO of Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship, and Hazlett is President of Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship. The Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit and has been a magnet and supportive partner for entrepreneurs, assisting with services every young business needs to succeed and grow.