Conway business incubator set to open this fall

Most businesses in our area deal in one of the four T's: tobacco, timber, turpentine or tourism. However, a new initiative to improve economic development in Conway centers around another "T," technology.

The City of Conway has partnered with Coastal Carolina University, Horry-Georgetown Technical College and Clemson University to bring more business to the area.

"Rather than going out and recruiting industries that are large and already developed to come to your community, you take start-up businesses and help them evolve into a developing business," according to Alys Lawson, Mayor of Conway.

The idea is called a business incubator, and there is now one in downtown Conway.

"We're the perfect location for a business incubator due to the fact that we have college students graduating," added Lawson. "We also have a large retiree group that has business experience that could be mentors for these entrepreneurs."

City officials hope it will allow Conway to retain college and high school graduates who might instead move to bigger cities like Charleston or Charlotte to find better-paying jobs.

"Once they take wings and fly to the nest of the incubator we hope they will locate within our community and hire numerous jobs here, so we're allowing Horry-Georgetown Technical College graduates, Coastal Carolina University graduates and high school graduates within the Conway community to have well-paying jobs here in the Conway community," said Lawson.

The new business incubator will be the fourth of its kind in the state. These incubators are part of Clemson University's Technology Villages, a program to create and foster technology-oriented companies in small areas.

"We started looking at a number of models of how universities create technology incubators," explained Michael Roberts, Dean of the College of Science at CCU. "We looked at a number of universities, and we looked at Clemson. "Their Technology Village program looked like the model made the most sense with the type of community that we're in, so we reached out to Clemson and found out that they had also considered Conway as a potential location for one of their expanding sites."

After the partnership between the city and the schools was formed, a nonprofit organization called the "Fifth T" was created to operate the center.

"We chose the name '5th T' because of the economic drivers of the region have been timber, turpentine, tobacco, tourism and, now, technology," added Roberts.

Roberts say the new breeding place for tech companies will also help bring in more business to Conway storefronts.

"Even if the companies that are incubated turn out to be web-based or cloud-based companies, so they wouldn't have a physical location, you still will have traffic downtown and traffic downtown helps businesses that are already existing in the area," said Roberts.

The incubator will give people with good ideas for a technology-related products the tools and help they need to develop their business plan, put together a pitch to investors and learn how to present their products to the investment community. All of that requires creativity, and that is something that Roberts hope the incubator's location will help with.

"The people that do this type of tech work like beer, and they like good food, so we placed it on 3rd Avenue in between the Crafty Rooster and Rivertown Bistro," said Roberts. "It should be the perfect location for individuals who like to think creatively about technology."

The technology and business incubator will be ready to help start-up businesses later this fall.

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