Give Southeast Raleigh business a boost

July 2, 2014 

There was nothing wrong with the concept: Create a business incubator focused on bringing startup firms to Southeast Raleigh, where business development has lagged behind other parts of the city.

But the application of the concept proved flawed. Not much happened. And then a belated city audit revealed questionable payments and more than $65,000 in missing cash. Auditors also discovered that the agency’s nonprofit status had been revoked. The incubator was called the Raleigh Business and Technology Center, and its building is mostly vacant a year after the city pulled funding from it following that audit. Police are still investigating.

Now, City Manager Ruffin Hall wants to form a new incubator at the site at Wilmington Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. A group charged with developing a new model has made reports to the Raleigh City Council, and there are disputes over whether the incubator should focus on minority-owned businesses, as the previous one did, or welcome all comers with ideas. There’s a case to be made for encouraging minority ownership, but should the incubator be devoted exclusively to that cause? There’s a question council members will have to answer.

Whatever form the incubator takes, City Hall must oversee it more closely than it did the first version. The council did not take enough of an interest, and by the time the audit came along, much money apparently had been wasted or lost. The new incubator should be scrutinized from city offices, and any expenditures should be made not in a big grant, but as needed, with approval from the manager’s office.

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