ON THURSDAY, JANUARY 26, WE KICKED OFF A SERIES OF EVENTS THAT STARTED
With a personal invitation to local business leaders, government officials, and other community influences, we gathered together to discuss how we can #EngageAlamance.
HERE'S WHAT YOU MISSED.
AN INTRODUCTION BY TRIP DURHAM
"Folks, good morning, my name is Tripp Durham and I’m the owner of 2D Consulting, LLC which opened up about seven years ago as a small business. Fortunately my colleagues have decided that I would make a great choice for chair-elect for the chamber of 2018. So all of this and the invitation of these guys brings me up this morning to be your moderator.
As I was thinking about opening up today’s program, I was thinking about a conversation that my grandfather, Webb Durham, had with Reid Maynard back in 1950. My grandfather thought it would be a really good idea from a textile standpoint to open up a new concept of business to be able to deliver different products and to be able to have a costumer basis, very oriented when it comes to interactive and collaboration. So if you’re familiar where (. . .) is on Mebane Street, that was Webb Co. Mills, my grandfather’s business that he opened up in 1952. And to think 60, 70 years later, there’s that same type of conversation going on from a different perspective — one this time maybe not on manufacturing, one that is a little more organic — with so many other industries that are possible in Alamance County.
And to have the invitation from these guys to come up and help moderate today’s presentation is a bit of a thrill. And to know that we’re doing this too in a building too that was built in the 1800’s — to me there is something very (. . .) coincidental, collaborative; there’s something about this influence of energy that I think really works well this morning. We have four folks who are going to give sort of a perspective, a vision, starting a conversation about what the next step might be to make Alamance County great — not so much within the next five or six years, but maybe within the next six to eighteen months. So very quick turnaround of ideas and explosion. Each of our four will give you about eight or nine minutes of thinking, we will have Q&A afterwards and my hope is that we are out of here at the top of the hour so we’re going to really move through this. Eric is going to lead us off -Eric is the most long-winded of the four so we’ll hope he stays on time. After Eric we’ll have Chelsea Dickey, after Chelsea we’ll have Ian, and then Jason will wrap us up before we have the Q&A. Eric you are on the clock."
FEATURED SPEAKER: ERIC HENRY
"Good morning. It’s exciting to see a lot of old faces. it’s also exciting to see a lot of new faces. This is what I define as community. For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve now lived in Alamance County for 59 years, a long time.
But for me, the wake up call, or the importance of community happened January 1, 1994 — and the young folks in the audience, you have no clue what I’m talking about. That was when NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, was ratified. Burlington, Alamance County, North Carolina — we were a textile community. I saw my business, TS Designs, in two years, lose 80% of our employees get laid off. Our customers could not get oversees quick enough. That’s when I realized there’s more to a business than bottom line. That’s when we changed our focus at TS Designs to focus not on profits, but people and planning. That’s when I also realized the success of a community is a community.
There is not one person that has the answer, [but] the assets are here. How do we contact those assets, how do we build those assets, and how do we make the community that we want to have? Because when I talk to my wife, who has also been here about the same amount of time, what is happiness? Happiness is living in a place that you want to be, a place that you’re connected, it’s not about how much money you make, how big your house is, what kind of car you drive — those are nice things, those are things that we need, but at the end of the day what is it you want? It’s community, it’s the connection here.
Jason, Jensen, good job for bringing this together because what we have to do — our community is changing. I’ve seen a lot of same ol’, same ol’. We got new people coming in, it’s exciting to see what’s happening at Elon University — the school that I took freshman English in 1976 had 850 students, now over 6,000 students represented at Elon today. But what I can say, is that answers and the future and our community lie with us. We cannot depend on the old business model of the white knight or the company that comes from somewhere else — comes to our community, to fix our problems, or to take advantage of our assets. We have a unique community, we have great assets, we have our challenges, but we also have our opportunities. So what I’m hoping what today does is connect new faces to some old faces, some new ideas to some old ideas.
Let’s work together to build a community that benefits everyone and not just a few. Again, thanks so much for coming, I’m looking forward to many more conversations and the opportunity to work and grow and build a community that we want to see here in Alamance County. Thank you so much."
FEATURED SPEAKER: CHELSEA DICKEY
"Thank you so much for coming. We’re just excited to be here and start the conversation. My name is Chelsea Dickey for those of you who do not know me. I was born and raised in Alamance County — my dad has a company here, my grandparents have a company, and I grew up in this environment of just seeing them navigate the small business climate here. I grew up watching them do that, went away to school, went to Philadelphia and got my undergrad in economic development, worked in Philly for awhile with small businesses, specifically connecting them to resources, connecting them to each other so they were able to enhance their economic environment and just really pour into the people.
I saw some really innovative businesses and store fronts doing some really cool things in Philly and I got tired of watching them and wanted to join the action so I decided to open a company — but I didn’t want to do that in Philadelphia. I saw that Burlington was excited about things that I wasn't excited about. It looked like we were really excited about the Alamance Crossings and the Tanger Outlets and I have such a passion for small business and what small business can bring to our community. If you think about small business or the downtowns, and you think about the faces and the people and the community that it impacts, it’s not a box, it has more of a heartbeat and it can contribute so much more to our day-to-day life.
So I moved back here and started Southern Glen in 2015. For those of you guys who don’t know, Southern Glen is an artisan boutique. We’ve been located in downtown Burlington for about two years now, and I really just wanted to have a platform for our local artists to be able to be seen and to sell their products. So not only was I a local business, but I was supporting all of these other local people in the process. So that’s a little bit about Southern Glen, through [which] I was able to get involved in downtown Burlington and what they’re doing there. When I moved into downtown Burlington the merchants really weren’t talking to each other, not for any reason, but everybody was in their store front, doing their thing. I didn’t have time to know a name or collaborate — and since then we’ve been meeting and having a little bit of collaboration going on. We’ve had several successful events, so it’s just starting the conversation. We don’t have a merchant’s association in downtown Burlington so there are things that need to be done so we have momentum, but it’s just about the engaging and the collaborating and the having conversations so we can act not as an individual business, but as a community that’s putting pieces together so that we can enhance what we have here.
So [when} starting the business, there were a ton of people that were able to mentor me, [but] I was both surprised and shocked by the lack of resource and the support of the community. When I opened, a lot of the “institution resources” weren’t as helpful as I thought they were going to be. I thought I was going to lean completely on them to figure out how to run a business, and what marketing to do, and how to engage with people, but I found that so many of the helpful things that I took away were meetings with these guys — I think we met a month before I opened the store — just the people that were able to feed knowledge into Southern Glen and build that momentum that way.
Another resource that we’ve had that’s connecting people is Leadership Alamance. I went through the Chamber of Commerce, and I know probably a third of the people that I know in the community because of that. Because it opens up your bubble [to] what the community is. The one thing I would say about that is I would love to see more - our class was 30, 35 people. I was the only entrepreneur in that entire class. There were a lot of people from the hospital and a lot of people from Lab Corp, but who are the people that want to feed into this community, not only as individuals but as business owners and non-profit leaders, and where are they in those conversations? So that’s a little bit about me and just our two years in business and where I’m at, but I’m super excited to be here and be apart of this conversation and there’s just a lot of exciting things in Alamance County that we can push through. So, thank you guys."
FEATURED SPEAKER: IAN BALTUTIS
"Good morning, glad to be here. My name is Ian Baltutis for those of you who may not know and I serve as the mayor of Burlington, the youngest mayor, and an entrepreneur. I believe that everyone has a unique perspective on the world around us, and I’m going to bet that no one sees the world in exactly the same way as each of you does, and in entrepreneurship that’s how you spot a niche. So you see it first, but do you act on it? That’s the key.
So in my business, my business partner’s realization ten years ago was that front-loading washing machines spun faster and made a lot of noise. His uncle worked at a company where they made vibration absorbing rubber. He put two and two together and we ended up with hockey puck size pads that go under washing machines and absorb the vibration. Well ten years later, that business is still leading the market and we’ve moved into other opportunities. But we would have never gotten there; we didn’t have the expertise from day one. What happened was we were at Elon University, surrounded by amazing professors and amazing mentors who wanted us to be successful. And they were wiling to connect us to all the people who would help us be successful, with the resources and that knowledge that we needed as naive, young business students.
It’s that expertise and that connection that makes entrepreneurs successful. And that same scenario of someone coming up with an idea, and either acting on it or not acting on it, happens all around us. And so it’s up to us to know what we’re going to do next. Does that person get the push, the boost, that little big of encouragement to keep that idea moving? And that could make all the difference in the world. We’ll never know how many ideas out there languish and die because they don’t get that extra push, that little bit of support to keep that person excited about it, to keep moving with it. That’s where we come in.
As mayor, we can build roads and we can fix up our downtowns, but what really matters is the people. It takes people working together to make this magic really happen. That magic occurs in what are called information spillovers or collisions. Today, there have been dozens of those collisions right here. How many of you met somebody you’ve never met this morning? Awesome! That’s why we invited all of you here. So I’m willing to bet that you are going to run into another person next week and that person is going to remind you of what we talked about here. Now I challenge you two weeks from now to connect those two people — that’s an information spillover, that’s a collision, that’s what’s happening in our downtowns, and that’s what should be happening in all of our entrepreneurial communities. Now you’ve accelerated that idea, you’ve put somebody on the path to success, you started that information spillover, that’s how we build the success for our community. So taking a quote from the researchers Hagle and Brown:
“In times of relative stability, what we uniquely know, our stock of distinct knowledge, is extremely valuable and needs to be carefully protected. If others acquire this knowledge they threaten to erode our distinction in the marketplace. We are in a zero sum world, so it pays to be extremely protective of our stocks of knowledge. But as change accelerates, something interesting happens, and this is where we are today, this is our current economic plan. Stocks of knowledge become progressively less valuable, while flows of knowledge, the relationships that can help generate new knowledge become more and more valuable. Rather than jealously protecting existing stocks of knowledge, institutions and people need to offer their own knowledge in a way to encourage others to share their knowledge to help accelerate new knowledge building.”
This is why we’ve gathered here today, here at Engage Alamance — to begin the spillover, to fuse dozens of new connections, and accelerate the pace of innovation in Alamance County. The next step is to give some of those ideas legs and even wings. Some will be businesses that will have profit models and will seek traditional startup funding, and some will be truly crazy in an amazing way, but with no help of getting anything less than a laugh from a traditional investor. I know we’ve heard these pitches all the time. So I’m asking you to take a moment and imagine if ten of us got together and pooled $100 each, a couple times a year, to create a $1000 grant to fund some of these really out there ideas. Now this is going on all over the world right now, they’re called “Awesome Funds.” They’ve been given out all over the world, over 2,400 of these, that’s $2.4 million given out for crazy ideas, given up by folks just like us to fund things like a forty-person hammock in a city park, or a 6-foot tall statue of a bunny rabbit for kids to climb on in an otherwise lifeless neighborhood, or a program to teach middle schoolers how to produce professional quality videos, so that they can help promote the non-profit organizations in their community — that’s what Awesome Funds do. These are micro-funded, hyper-local projects that give people the opportunity to directly get involved and see the impact of their giving in their community. This is not a replacement for startup funding, but it can make some really, truly awesome projects out there find a home in our community and help us to find what’s truly awesome in Alamance County.
I challenge you in the words of Bruce Cats, “Imagine if [Alamance County] pursued our own revolutions, stepping up, setting ambitious goals, making distinctive bets, and acting with deliberation, purpose, and conviction. We could unleash our economies, we could reshape our places, we could expand our opportunities, we could instill an infectious spirit of confidence. We could become, in short, the best 21st century version of ourselves.” We can do all of this and it all starts with simple collisions, and encouraging somebody to pursue their unique idea, innovation, or forty-person hammock in courthouse square. Thank you."
FEATURED SPEAKER: Jason Cox
I’m Jason Cox and first off I just want to say thank you to Eric, to Chelsea, to Ian, for agreeing to speak here today. It’s scary up here, looking at sixty faces, even if know half of them. What I think is fun is that each of them really represents a different face of Alamance County, right? But what each of them shares is a desire to build something, and then a willingness to be participants in the community. Which, whatever its context, including a forty-person hammock (which I will put the first $100 in on) I think is something we could always use a lot more of. Again, thank you to each of you for participating and for starting this conversation.
Now I use the word “start” very intentionally because the point of today for me is about starting a collective discussion about the state of small business and entrepreneurship here in our area — an honest, forward-focused conversation about where we currently are, where we need to go, and how we actually intend to get there. Most importantly, because I’m an impatient person, is why the conversation really needs to start right now. I actually met Tripp three weeks ago for the first time downstairs at Press. And like any sort of proper, get-to-know-you conversation that you have with someone, we ended up kind of talking about our respective entrepreneurial journeys, right? The winds, the pivots, the painful but educational mistakes that we all make on those journeys that got us from where we started to where we are right here and now. And when I think about that conversation and so many other conversations that I’ve had like it, one thing about them is always the same — every story, every journey, always hinges on the connections that were created, that key person that we met at the right moment in time, that unexpected conversation that you had with someone that gave a different perspective, a different direction to take your business or idea with. Every one of us, when we look backwards, we can kind of see how those different dots connected, how each of those seemingly arbitrary things brought us to where we are now, and it’s those connections and the doors that those connections open that ultimately creates opportunity.
Our first obstacle in creating an engaged, entrepreneurial community here, is people. Now it’s not the lack of people that some might think it is, people are here, opportunities are here. It’s the connecting of the dots that we really don’t do a very good job of sometimes — creating those open doors of opportunity. But community is ultimately created and changed by the connections that people make, and we all have something that we could contribute to that network, some sort of passion, or skill, or knowledge base that all of us has. And as that happens, those contributions, they interconnect, they interact, sometimes in really amazing, surprising ways. Who here has seen what happens when you put a pack of Mentos into a bottle of Coke? Seriously, if you’re not raising your hand you’re missing out. So it’s kind of shocking, right, if you’ve seen it. So anyway, the two of them alone are just a pack of kind of crappy mints and a lukewarm bottle of soda, right? But if you put those two things together, that’s YouTube worthy stuff, people have created like fountains and sequences. The thing about that reaction is this, both of those items contained that energy already. It was putting them together that activated that energy, right? It was that catalyst, that explosion, that sort of “Aha!” moment is exactly what happens when you’ve got a strong and connected entrepreneurial network in your community. But that network ultimately starts with people actively choosing to be participants, rather than observers on the sideline. It starts by simply agreeing to just show up.
Here’s a realistic landscape of where we are right now, 2017. In spite of all the emphasis and news articles about entrepreneurship, new business creation has steadily dropped for the last thirty years. Despite that drop, in that same time frame, nearly all net new jobs came from companies that were zero to five years old, new companies. But here’s the bigger problem, as entrepreneurship has declined, where those new companies are formed becomes increasingly more concentrated. And this is the thing, that gap is only going to widen, and only going to accelerate between communities that really focus in on creating the right conditions for local entrepreneurship to be created and for those that depend on second-hand growth. Between a thriving, locally based economy or one that’s propped up, ultimately by a company that’s six states away. For 100 years or more, people followed the factory, more than half of all jobs were working class, right? Transportation, construction, manufacturing — you know what that number is today? Twenty percent, and one in five of those jobs, just from 2000 to 2010 went away. Meanwhile today, thirty-three percent, one in three jobs classifies as being a part of a creative economy. The value in those jobs is in problem solving and innovation, it’s not in repeating of pattern. People no longer follow the factory, and we see that when we drive around. The people ultimately are the factory at this point because it’s that problem solving and that innovation that creates new businesses, and ultimately acts as catalysts to growth.
Now at that same time, people have choices nowadays as Andy Lance would say, “The world is flat.” People have choices on where they live and where they build businesses. They do that where they feel engaged, they do that where they feel connected, where they're a participant. I say this with a sense of urgency and its intentional because the communities that can keep and attract creative, engaged people are the ones that will be successful — economically, socially, whatever metric you prefer. But for that type of community to happen, we have to establish an environment that actively and genuinely supports that effort. The thing about it is the ingredients for that type of community are already in the room. Ian talked about some of them today, actually everyone talked about some of them today. It’s the how it’s done that depends on a lot of different things — the available resources, particular skills, and industries are some of the things that make one area different from another that we can leverage, and Alamance County has tons of those unique skills and opportunities.
But it starts, and it ultimately comes down, to a collective will to move forward — that critical mass of people who choose to roll up their sleeves and come to the table. Those committed to not just talking about a direction forward but who are actively committed to making that direction happen.
Here’s the thing, it’s not a simple build it and they will come sort of scenario that some may think. You can’t remodel a building and have it become the center for innovation. You can’t create a logo on a website and support entrepreneurship. It takes real life results to build companies and it takes real life results to build an environment that helps create them and helps grow them. But that environment starts with engagement, agreeing to step up with the resources that you, or your organization, or your company has in the ways that you can.
So I’m going to end with this, the invitation that everybody got for this first conversation was that the focus of the Engage Alamance series would be for attendees to leave with tangible next steps that we can take as participants in the community to connect, innovate, and collaborate. You heard some of those from our panel today, we’re also going to have a Q&A as Tripp mentioned after this to talk about how you can join that conversation, where you can start today to participate in that conversation. On top of that each of you was given a card when you walked in, those cards to me at least are ultimately about determining who wants to be a participant and who chooses to be an observer. Now that sounds a little bit harsh, but I think it's the kind of honesty we don’t really see enough of unfortunately.
Staying in the comfort of the status quo won’t leave any needles anywhere, and that’s because this isn’t a half-in scenario — entrepreneurship isn’t built by putting half in, by committing half way to creating a company. It doesn’t work that way. And you don’t build an environment designed to support entrepreneurship half committed either. That environment has to have its co-creators and its cheerleaders, it’s that combination that’s built upon collaboration, would-be entrepreneurs, successful mentors, organizations and companies that choose to support and interact within that environment. And I hope that that environment looking back, connecting the dots down the road, starts today and hopefully with some of the people in this room.
WHAT IS COMMUNITY?
Jason: I will say to the bigger question, to me, it’s a hub and spoke model. It’s a community of communities, I think. I had a conversation with someone this morning about how many people she didn’t know in this room, but everybody here probably knew about a third of the people in this room. We need to work on the hub and spoke model is my attitude on the community. Because her root people that she hangs out with and my root people, are probably not the same people and there needs to be a lot better overlap and I think it’s the connecting within the communities.
Ian: And to add to that, that hub idea, that core of the community, like we can talk about Alamance County, we are a region. But the communities are where we are, right here, downtown Graham, downtown Burlington, downtown Elon, those communities, those hubs, those cores, are where those collisions happen. When I’m walking the one block from City Hall to Company Shops Market and Eric is walking down the street saying, “Hey, I got an idea! I want your help with something.” it’s those collisions, and those only happen in those cores throughout the community. You can’t have a collision, a good one, in a car driving down the street. You have to be in those downtowns, walking across Elon’s campus to physically run into that person and that happens within these tight cores. There’s a study out there that says one mile, one mile is the magic number. If your business is more than one mile from another one, there’s a one in ten chance that you might ever run into them, and you’re not going to run back into them, so you’re not going to accelerate that idea collaboration. But if you’re all in that core, you’re all interacting, your business doesn’t have to be located in downtown — if you’re down there for lunch, if you're down there for a meeting, if you purposefully put yourself in those cores, you will have those positive interactions in the community.
Now it's time to get to work! We'll be hosting quarterly meetings to move forward on our main goal - building an entrepreneurial ecosystem as a community. And we're going to need you active participation, presence and general ideas. So get involved! If you haven't already, sign up for updates and stay in touch with us as we make #EngageAlamance happen!