On today’s episode, we talk about how neighboring counties can help fuel business growth in Charlotte. We spoke with Terry Cox of TechWorks Gaston on how they are fostering entrepreneurship in Gaston County and how she thinks there’s a benefit to the region as a whole.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews Hey, there you are listening to The B2U Podcast. And I am your host, Vanessa Vaughn Mathews, the founder and chief resilience officer of Asfalis Advisors. The B2U podcast is brought to you by CBRbiz. A site connecting you with the resources you need to start and run a business in the Charlotte region. We’re bringing business resources directly to you. We discuss a wide range of topics like starting and growing a business, navigating government contracts and how to set your business apart in and around Charlotte. We’re talking with small business experts to get exclusive advice on how to start and run a successful business.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews For a lot of people when they think of Charlotte businesses they think of Uptown. On today’s episode we are hoping to expand their perspective and talk about how neighboring counties can help fuel business growth in the Charlotte region. Today we will be speaking with Terry Cox of TechWorks Gaston on how they are fostering entrepreneurship in Gaston County and how she thinks there’s benefit to the region as a whole. Terry, thank you for joining us today.
Terry Cox Well, thank you for having me.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews This is a timely topic.
Terry Cox It Is a timely topic, indeed.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews So before we get started, why don’t you tell our listeners more about yourself?
Terry Cox OK. So I’m Terry Cox I’m the executive director of TechWorks Gaston, which recently opened up in Belmont in April of 2019. And previously, I ran an organization called Big or Big Council, which I think most in Charlotte may know me by. I’ve had that organization since 2006. So that’s, what, 13 years? Wow. And then previous to that, I was in San Francisco, worked in asset management, was an entrepreneur in the Atlanta/Athens, Georgia area and was a CPA with KPMG.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews Nice. Okay.
Terry Cox So checkered path.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews Yeah. Bulldogs?
Terry Cox Yes. Yes.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews Tarheels? Which one?
Terry Cox I’m actually a Georgia alum so go dogs!
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews Okay. Okay. All right. I’m a Gamecock, though. All right. We forgive you.
Terry Cox Yeah right? I can’t believe you us on our home field?
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews So what about TechWorks Gaston? What is that?
Terry Cox So what is that? So, you know, I was sort of recruited a couple years ago to come to Gaston County, which to many is the county that most people might think almost negatively of or don’t know much about. Right. And it took me a while to get my head around it. But it is a county that I think has tremendous, tremendous opportunity for growth and innovation and entrepreneurship and technology and everything else. Given that, it’s like it’s like the next frontier for this region. You know, having worked in this region for a long time now. And I wasn’t familiar with Gaston County. I feel like the river divides us. And yet it doesn’t need to. And we really should own the river. I mean, Cambridge, Massachusetts owns a river, right. So we should own this river. And it’s only 20 minutes from downtown Charlotte, where TechWorks is located.
And so when we designed this entrepreneurial tech hub, we told the state who gave us some funding, a million dollars, is a great example of a model that is an a ring county to an urban center where you could leverage the urban center to to migrate, let’s say, into rural cause, to go from urban all the way into rurals hard. And so we kind of, you know, create the transition and leverage a big city like Charlotte in the tech hub that Charlotte’s becoming to build out Belmont to start and then go west all the way to Bessemer City. I mean, that’s sort of the long term goal. Yeah. Because to, you know, to bring jobs back to Gaston.
I mean, they were great in the heyday with textile manufacturing and they’ve been challenged. And so it’s the second poorest county in the region. And I think it’s there’s huge opportunity to reinvigorate that county with technology, with innovation, with entrepreneurship.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews It sounds like what you just shared was kind of the back history of Gaston, right? What kind of brought TechWorks into existence?
Terry Cox Into existence. So we ended up developing this model. I think originally they were thinking more just an incubator, right. And so when I quote-unquote got hired to come over there and address this whole challenge, we decided to build a hub that addressed technology. You know, tech talent development and help startups and growth companies. And we ended up being a place with a lot of venues for events and community things and civic things. I mean, I wanted it to be a place for community, so not just an incubator for startups. So the model expanded to kind of embrace the different services for the community.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews Gotcha.
Terry Cox Yeah. If that makes sense.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews So helping people start and grow businesses seems to be a part of what your DNA is. From Big, which I’ve heard a lot about it, and helping people connect to the right people to now TechWorks. What do you think entrepreneurship or why do you think entrepreneurship is so important in this region?
Terry Cox You know, about you know, I feel like it’s a it’s it’s a calling from God I swear, the way I support entrepreneurs don’t make any money. But, you know, I go back that, you know, the entrepreneurs are the real job creators and the disruptors and the wealth creators in any region in anywhere in this country.
And so if we don’t support, I’d say, scalable high growth entrepreneurship. And that’s my focus versus lifestyle. And mom and pops. It’s scalable companies. Then we won’t have growth in this region. And we are a software economy. Right. I mean, everywhere it’s underlying everything is technology. And so we’ve got to get we’ve got to really nurture that. It’s going to move at a really fast pace as we enter this new decade. I think it’s going to go faster than it’s ever gone. And the job demands in tech are going to be even greater. So, you know, I think that’s where the growth will be. So if you don’t support it, I think you’ll be obsolete.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews Absolutely. Yeah. And when you say scaling businesses, what size?
Terry Cox You know, anywhere from, you know, pure startup to, you know, the focus on big has always been like a million to 20 million in revenue. Although we ended up working with companies over 200 million in revenue. But, you know, it’s size zero or 50 million revenue, kind of companies.
So the companies that, interestingly enough, in TechWorks here, I had this whole network over in Charlotte but every company that has the month to month office or desk rental in TechWorks is from Gaston County. Blew my mind. Like how they. Where are they and how, you know, they found us and they came out. And yet I can’t still recruit Charlotte companies in the TechWorks still come for events that come for the day, but not for a month. But it’s great to see all these tech companies come out from under in Gaston County so there are a lot more there than I ever thought there were.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews That is awesome.
Terry Cox Yeah, these are these are these are good entrepreneurs. They’re not first…. Most of them are second stage, third stage entrepreneurs. I say almost everybody my space had a company before and doing it again. And that’s really the kind of entrepreneur you really want because they know what they’re doing. You know, there are probably scale pretty quickly, better for me for rental income.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews And they’ve had a chance to learn some of those lessons.
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Vanessa Vaugh Mathews So what are some of the unique challenges at TechWorks?
Terry Cox So I would say we’re still lean. You know, we a very lean operation and we used all our money to update this building. So its 14000 square feet, old mill building, about a hundred years old, and we got money from the state, the county and the city and all that money went to upfit. And if you go in our spaces, and see how beautiful it is there you’ll see you know how much…. Why it took so much. We have like state of the AV in there. So now we’re kind of lean and mean. So I would say the hardest challenge is getting operationally staffed to handle everything that is coming to us. I mean, it’s tremendous opportunity and it’s like finding the funding to hire the staff and then do what we can really possibly do. And we became a Pearson View Testing Center. The first testing center in Gaston County. And we’re serta port and we’re going to have another one to that as required a little. I mean, it’s awesome for the community, but it’s required a little bit more work than I realize, too. So like I said, all these options keep coming to us and it’s just like having the infrastructure to deliver on those opportunities.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews Yeah. So that’s a part of my next question. Right. So if you guys are successful in my mind, then we can replicate this model across the region because there’s a lot of companies who are moving to Charlotte and many of them have needs for tech talent. Whether you’re in manufacturing or whether you’re in retail, there’s a need there. But the infrastructure, to your point, as far as talent in this community, you know, goes back to, well, where are they? How do we find them? How do we nurture them here? How do you see TechWorks becoming a model for other regions?
Terry Cox So we have launched this technology academy and we are focused very seriously on K-12 STEM. We’re rolling out a pretty serious STEM program in 2020. And then we’re also doing adult education. We’re a cop team academy partners. So we’re currently like next week starting a project plus we’re gonna do Linux+ we’re gonna do Network+ We’re gonna do Security+. Maybe A+ but goodwill already does that. And then I hope to partner with E.C. Council and roll out some cybersecurity professional certifications. I just need the money to join their council. But we’ve been approved and the first one will be a digital ethical hacker course. So addressing adult education as well as K-12, because we need to start building the pipeline. And now I feel like kids could come out of college or even high school and get hired, right? You know, you don’t necessarily have to go to for your college to have really good, well-paying jobs. So, you know, we kind of want to fuel that, too.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews So a couple weeks ago, I went to the city of Charlotte’s Trade, Transportation and Logistics Summit and they were talking about business owners who need talent in the vocational side of things, too. How how do you guys hope to bridge that with trade and tech?
Terry Cox Yeah. So, interestingly enough, that’s what we’re trying to… It won’t happen this year, but maybe in 2020, literally launch what we call tech and trade. So it is training for the trades along with the, you know, automation and the tech required. So, for instance, to build a smart home, I learned from Lowe’s and their Generation T program, it’s still hard to build a very successful, smart home. And so if we could blend IOT, let’s say the knowledge in IOT along with the vocational training. I think that would be a unique compliment to bring to the region. And according to Lowe’s, there’s hardly anyone in the country focused on the combination of the trades training along with the tech training.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews Absolutely.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews Yeah. Yeah, I grew up in manufacturing, so I understand that world first before more of the professional services side but I think people don’t find those industries sexy.
Terry Cox No…That it’s a whole education. The gentleman from Lowe’s told me they paid a shower installer for glass showers $86,000. Well, people need to know that.
Terry Cox Yeah. That’s a well-paying job. So.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews Very well-paying job. Thank you, Lowes.
Terry Cox So I do think there’s an…as the vocational jobs become a little bit more high skill. And I can tell you this much the textile companies are currently not even holding a third shift because they can’t find workers. So I feel like there’s as much a crisis in trades as there is in tech. And I think the common training on the combination of the two will ultimately be the best thing so that somebody who is in the trades is going to be very technical oriented as they work in kind of a more manufacturing environment. And I think apprenticeships, we all need that think wow do we need to do apprenticeships? Yeah, like in a much more robust way.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews Absolutely. I think we have a couple of opportunities for our educational side as well as the professional side and how do we how do we take lessons learned from other countries, from other regions and implement one or two things here in Charlotte?
Terry Cox Yeah, cause so like the Apprentice, One, Two, Three, that Gaston College has is a brilliant program.
They start two years high school, then they go to two years Gaston College and they go work like in an and then have a nice paying job and they come out. And yet there’s what I don’t know, 15 people in the program. I feel like there should be a thousand. I mean, I absolutely think there should be a thousand going through that kind of program, not just a handful right here.].
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews So how do we scale that?
Terry Cox How do we scale that?
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews So there is over 100 people moving to Charlotte a day so they say and I’ve read articles that Charlotte is a great place to live and own a business if you are an entrepreneur. So with that, what would you tell someone who looks at Charlotte as the only place in the region to start a business for small companies?
Terry Cox I would say seriously look at Belmont where I am with TechWorks. I mean, it is that little town is going to grow tremendously in the next few years, especially if the Chronicle Mill development gets off the ground. We have rail coming. It’s a mini Asheville. It has sort of the vibe for a strong entrepreneurial community. It’s probably half the price of any co-working in Charlotte. The housing is a lot less. And yet you have a fantastic quality of life. I really honestly… I live in Charlotte myself. I couldn’t say one negative thing about Belmont. I think it just is awesome in every way, including the city manager, Adrian Miller. I mean, it is just a phenomenal little town.
Terry Cox And I think they’re starting to get discovered, but they may not want to be it, but it really is. It’s just an awesome place I would think to start a company. Yeah. If you’re first if you’re new here.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews Love it, OK, so if you want to learn more about the great work Terry is doing at TechWorks Gaston, check out their site at TechWorksGaston.com. This has been very insightful, very, very insightful and timely, like I mentioned. So thank you very much for joining us today. Is there anything else that you would like to leave or share with our listeners before we leave?
Terry Cox Before I leave. So I’ll have to quote Chris Ellmore, you know, the guy who works at Avid Exchange I think a lot of people know. When he came to our grand opening, he called TechWorks the opportunity factory. And I think that sums this up really well. The opportunity factory for county that ranks lower in the economic growth category and we are here to serve the community.
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews I love that. Yeah, I love that. Wow. The opportunity factory. The opportunity factory. Wow. Amazing. And where can our listeners find you on social channels?
Vanessa Vaugh Mathews Well, there you have it. For exclusive interviews with small business professionals like Terry. Make sure to subscribe to us wherever you listen to podcasts or at CBRbiz.com. And if you liked today’s show please rate and review us. If you have any questions, topics or suggestions, send in your requests at CBRbiz.com or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I am your host, Vanessa Vaugh Mathews. And thanks for listening to CBR B2U Podcast.
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