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Franklin Business Center turns 15

Former Incubator continues to nurture businesses

FRANKLIN

While the anniversary number of 15 might not carry as much emotional weight as say, 25 or 50, it still speaks to longevity of the occasion. In this case, the Franklin Business Center — formerly known as the Franklin Incubator — is observing its 15th anniversary, which was on Tuesday.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has, of course, canceled any public celebration. Ashley Covington, the Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc.’s marketing and existing business manager, said a Chamber After-Hours event was originally planned. Now, though, there’ll be a “Sweet 16” party next year at this time.

Nevertheless, the no one wanted this anniversary to go unnoticed.

Warren Beale, one of the original board members of the then-Incubator, recalled its origins. He first said the FBC was previously a warehouse first belonging to Birdsong Peanuts. That company gave the building to the City of Franklin, but a use had not yet been found.

“There was talk about it being torn down … vines were growing up the side. It was basically abandoned,” said Beale. “Sol Rawls Jr. started what he called the Futures Group. He put together maybe 40 people in the city and county to meet and talk about the future and what could be done to improve [the two] in the long run. All our eggs were in either agriculture or Union Camp and there was a need to diversify.”

One group looked at schools, another parks and recreation, and a third for economic development, From the latter came the idea to create a small business center, Beale continued. Rawls hired a bus, paid for by the Camp Foundation. Many in that third group, including Bucky Council, Bobby Worrell and Paul Camp Marks, went to Dunn, North Carolina, to see what that locality was doing. On the way home, a stop was made in Wilson to find out how that place was handling its economic development.

Afterward, the city council decided to convert the warehouse as a place for businesses to grow.

“The City got some grant money and put the building out for bid. It didn’t have a name then, we just called it the incubator. Renovations took about a year,” said Beale. “Cathy Davidson came up with a plan to get tenants. She came up with the board about same time, and city put two or three tenants. City Manager Bucky Taylor had her start with the initial development of the business center, and a board of directors was put together.”

Charles Wrenn, who was then on city council, was asked to be chairman. In addition to Beale, Taylor and Wrenn, other board members were: Teresa Beale, Mack Coker, Elliott Cobb, Carolyn Crowder, Lauren Harper, Bill Peak, Ann Williams and Kathy Worrell. They created the guidelines, qualifications and rules for businesses that wanted to start at the site, which later officially became the Incubator.

Later, the building was turned over to what would become the FSEDI.

Beale said there were initial concerns about filling the spaces.

“It was slow at first, but then finally it got to the point where occupancy rate was very high,” he said, adding that Highground Services was one of the earliest occupants. “It was successful. It’s been at 70 percent occupancy for a long time.”

Franklin City Manager Amanda Jarrett, who in 2010 succeeded John Smolak as the FSEDI’s president and CEO, said, “The Franklin Business Center is an economic engine for not only the City of Franklin but [also] the entire region. The graduates that have been generated from the facility that have located in our area have a tremendous positive impact on the local and regional economy. I am proud to have a facility of this type leading the way for entrepreneurship in the Commonwealth located in our City.”

Someone else who’s especially pleased to be using the FBC is Resource Management and Consulting Corp., led by Alex Fanjul.

“We do mainly two things: Consulting with companies, such as for branding and social media and marketing. Really helping them to find their voice and basically to get in front of their audiences,” he said. “The second part is financial retirement and getting ready for growth by just doing some wealth planning. Most small mom-and-pop shop work so much in their business but not on their business.”

The former real estate agent said that when he and his wife and business partner, Judy, came from Chesapeake to visit Franklin, they fell in love with the area and decided it would be a “great place to raise our children.”

“We decided we really wanted to have a flag here in Franklin,” he said. “We opened an office a little less than a year later. I pretty much as to reconfigure our business.”

It’s a move neither has regretted — they’ve been here since 2006.

Of the FBC, Fanjul said, “It’s a very professional presence with a receptionist and how the offices are laid out. Very neat. I really love the layout. There’s a lot of privacy with open access to items below. We save money one of these business things such as conference rooms, copiers, fax machines.

“I never thought I needed an office, now I noticed that I should have done this long time ago. There’s more concentration and focus.

“They really have created an atmosphere for growth.”