Business news: Craigavon, Ireland, visitor discusses Troup business incubator

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 27, 2015

From left, Craigavon Industrial Development Organisation Chief Executive Brian Hunter of LaGrange’s sister city in Craigavon, Ireland, discusses the feasibility of a business incubator being placed in Troup County with LaGrange City Councilwoman Norma Tucker and Callaway Foundation President Speer Burdette.

From left, LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton presents a gift to Brian and Carol Hunter of Craigavon, Ireland.

A gift was presented to Brian and Carol Hunter of Craigavon, Ireland, for their visit to LaGrange. From left, front, are LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton, Brian and Carol Hunter, and LaGrange city Councilman Nick Woodson; and, back, LaGrange Councilwoman Norma Tucker and Councilman Bobby Traylor.

Business incubators have become increasingly popular as a proven method to get startup businesses off the ground and existing businesses to the next level.

An incubator provides advanced business services and resources allowing different types and sectors of businesses to grow at sustainable rates and achieve a greater rate of success. From providing low cost rental spaces to administrative services like human resources or accounting, incubators help new business owners conserve their capital.

Although several services exist in Troup County to aid in the development of local businesses, there’s no one-stop shop for everything a potential business owner needs to get off the ground. In the future, that could change.

LaGrange’s sister city, Craigavon in Northern Ireland, is the home of the CIDO Innovation Centre, or the Craigavon Industrial Development Organisation. Founded in 1985 following the closing of a Goodyear factory, CIDO provides rentable workspaces and development resources for startups and established businesses throughout the Craigavon Urban Area, representing about 205,000 people.

“Our mission, and it’s very personal to me – we work with startups, we work with students, – is all about putting something back into the community,” CIDO Chief Executive Brian Hunter said during a recent visit to LaGrange with his wife, Carol. “It was born out of crisis. A couple of business men got together. They got some money, and the first building was put up.”

The leaders of Troup County agree that an incubator could work in the community to help drive the growth of smaller businesses, plus add new ideas to the mix. Hunter spent more than a week touring several locations across Troup and Carroll counties as well as downtown Atlanta to assess the feasibility of a local incubator.

“CIDO is totally self-sustaining, which might give you some comfort,” he said to administrators with the city of LaGrange, “but it’s not an easy journey.”

Hunter has grown not-for-profit CIDO into a global operation, working with business networks throughout Ireland and Europe to help drive enterprise back to Craigavon. They are currently working with companies representing everything from agri-food to pharmaceuticals, technology startups to athletic complexes.

Businesses are allowed to grow in the Innovation Centre for about 18 months then are encouraged, depending on their growth, to move into larger rental spaces as long as they’re willing to stay in Craigavon.

“Keep them in the area. That’s the essence,” Hunter said. “They’ve got to stay.”

The same resources provided to them at the beginning of their journey remain till they’re on their own. Owners sign three-year contracts agreeing to stay in the area or as long as they can, depending on individual situations.

Executives with manufacturing groups in Craigavon help mentor the growing businesses, volunteering their time to teach what they’ve learned through years of experience.

Through different programs and events, CIDO raises funds to plug back into their businesses. Anything made is used to further what Hunter and his team can provide, from inspiring elementary students to be entrepreneurs to helping unemployed workers get back in the workforce through entrepreneurship – all things Hunter thinks Troup County is ready for.

“We are a mixed use incubator, which I think you guys need to be. That’s my advice on this,” Hunter said. “The dropout rate – you’ve got to work on that and you can help inspire those students to start their own businesses, and you’ve got to work with kids across the spectrum. Your THINC Academy is a great place to start.

“It’s all here. All of the ingredients are here – you just need the catalyst, that person to drive it. That’s the key thing.”