The Triangle is no stranger to cutting-edge industry, but some towns have had to reposition themselves to take advantage of a business world that is decreasingly centralized and increasingly made up of small businesses and entrepreneurs.
But the future of that scene could look different in Fuquay-Varina than it has in other towns throughout the region because of its geography, history and small-town charm.
The town’s leadership and other local stakeholders are capitalizing on those factors by trying to bill itself as a workplace for a younger generation of professionals as well as a place to call home.
As in other Triangle towns, including neighboring Holly Springs, a big part of that solution will be establishing downtown coworking spaces or incubators that suit the needs of nimble startups, work-from-anywhere employees and independent contractors.
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So far, the Chamber of Commerce is spearheading that effort, said Jim Seymour, Fuquay-Varina’s economic development director, but the town’s Economic Development Commission is in full support of it.
“We want in on this market,” said Linda Frenette, executive director of Fuquay-Varina’s Chamber of Commerce, which is hosting Innovate FV, a series of startup-oriented workshops and competitions.
“We’d be missing out if we didn’t have the same sort of space here,” she said.
But Fuquay-Varina also has other ideas to draw that type of industry to town. The town’s geography, in between Fort Bragg and the Raleigh-Durham metro area, puts it in the middle of two of the state’s key institutional anchors.
Seymour said he could see that leading to the town becoming a “minihub” connecting those two regions as they expand toward each other.
Plus, Fuquay-Varina’s history as a tobacco town and current home to several industrial heavy-hitters has inspired it to partner with three nearby colleges – Wake Tech, Campbell University and N.C. State. They hope to capture the more industrial and agricultural aspects of the startup economy that towns closer to the region’s urban core might have overlooked.
Campbell, in Buies Creek, just opened an engineering school this semester, and Seymour said the town is looking at ways to help students who live nearby ease into compatible jobs or start their own businesses in Fuquay-Varina.
Fuquay-Varina has been successful attracting traditional small businesses and restaurants to its downtown, but it hasn’t yet seen the same volume of high tech companies other Triangle towns have enjoyed. The major businesses in town are John Deere, Bob Barker, TE Connectivity and Southbend – all relatively large, old-school corporations founded before the word “startup” entered the popular business lexicon.
“Those are home-run projects the town is still trying to recruit,” Seymour said. “But with technology and the way people are doing business, people don’t necessarily need a huge warehouse or office space anymore.”
Fuquay-Varina’s personality is among the reasons it has drawn so many new arrivals in recent years But many who commute from the town generally know Fuquay-Varina as a great place to live but, in the mornings, a traffic-clogged place to leave.
“Those folks that want to open up businesses, who want to start tech companies, we have that opportunity because people don’t want to have to drive into Cary,” Seymour said.
In the absence of a town-sponsored coworking space or an official incubator, Seymour said, the town and its partners have taken an active approach toward helping small businesses and entrepreneurs flourish in Fuquay-Varina, which he touts as something the town can offer that its larger neighbors can’t.
Part of that involvement is the town’s participation in the Innovate FV program, a six-month startup initiative put on by the Chamber of Commerce. It’s the second time the Chamber has hosted the event. This year, it features two divisions. One is for startup pitches, while the other is for small businesses younger than 3 years old seeking a boost or other resources to help them grow.
Innovate FV is set to culminate during the last week of January with a pitch competition, where Seymour himself will be a panelist. Prizes include cash and donation of in-kind professional services or resources from the town and local businesses.
Until January, Frenette said, the Chamber will hold monthly seminars to help prepare potential participants. In December, for instance, acting coaches from Raleigh’s Little Theatre will help entrepreneurs fine-tune their pitches and presentations – not only for InnovateFV the next month, but ideally for presentations to banks and more traditional financiers.
“We know there are people who want to start a business, have a dream, have an idea,” Frenette said. “And we want to reach them.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan