Industrial incubator pondered for Tabor City
It’s been more than two decades since Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation began to publically consider establishing a business incubator in Tabor City, just two years since the utility offered the 16,000 square foot facility at the Tabor Industrial Park to town government.
With the building and property now jointly owned by Tabor City and Columbus County governments, its space essentially filled, is there need for a new business incubator?
That question is before the Tabor City Council, members receiving “Tabor City Industrial Incubator: A Feasibility Study” during Tuesday’s regular monthly meeting.
Prepared by NCGrowth, an enterprise of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the 40-page document analyzed the demand for an industrial incubator in Tabor City, its potential capacity and management, community support, and suggested next steps.
Of specific concern, the report said, is that there are no vacancies in the current incubator and only four sites “currently under consideration: two are in downtown Tabor City and have existing structures on the parcels. The other two are greenfield sites in the Tabor City Industrial Park.”
Study author Sadie Nott, an NCGrowth Analyst, said a new incubator is warranted.
“Our study finds that developing a second industrial incubator in Tabor City is a timely investment; industrial growth is occurring slowly in Tabor City, and that growth will be stifled if additional industrial space is not made available to industries who express interest in Tabor City.”
There may be state grants available to develop an incubator, the report said, with the town well positioned in a Tier 1 county, state designation tied to economically distressed areas and tobacco-dependent communities, both applying to Tabor City.
Potential sites include the former Heilig-Meyers building on West 5th Street and the W.F. Cox Building on South Main Street, shuttered as that firm went out of business early this year.
Neither site is ideal, with the Heilig-Meyers Building long vacant, undersized and in disrepair the least attractive alternative, the report said.
Undeveloped property within the Tabor Industrial Park offers the best option, with one directly across from the former BEMC incubator “the lowest cost option and vest fit for construction needs, future use, and desired flexibility of this project,” the report said.
Community support for an incubator is important, the study said, encouraging the town to continue partnerships with county government, the Columbus Jobs Foundation, Tabor City Committee of 100, and other groups to build support, both financial and other, for the project.
Council has not yet discussed the report, receiving it Tuesday night, but if town government chooses to move forward with an industrial incubator, the report outlines important next steps after reaching out to the groups identified above:
• Finalize site selection
• Seek bids from contractors to determine costs
• Apply for grants from the state Economic Development Administration and the Golden LEAF Foundation. The reports that Golden LEAF funds will only be available if prospective tenants have been identified.
• Hire a manager, earlier than later, allowing that person to manage construction and market the space before building is complete.
• Begin marketing and recruiting tenants.
• Begin construction.