It was a long-awaited ceremony for the ribbon to be cut at the business incubation center last Wednesday.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Hinesville Assistant City Manager Ryan Arnold.
With that, the Business Incubation Center opened its doors, ushering in a new era of business in the community.
“We’ve had highs and lows and the lows were not our fault,” said Hinesville Mayor Allen Brown, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. “This to us is not just a building; it’s a symbol of our city’s commitment to working together as partners to boost our talent, promote entrepreneurship and enrich the lives of our residents.”
Hinesville City Manager Kenneth Howard recalled hearing Georgia Southern University’s Dr. Dominique Halaby, the provost for innovation and commercialization, at a conference in Savannah and knew from that moment he needed to work with Dr. Halaby on the incubation center.
“He has done a magnificent job of herding all the cats,” Howard said. “From that relationship, we have had several projects. This is not the end. This is the epitome of teamwork.”
Halaby’s group also conducted the initial feasibility study for an event center, Howard pointed out.
Georgia Southern University’s Business Innovation Group will operate the incubation center, with its services geared toward helping military spouses, veterans and others get their business going from an idea into motion. The BIG operates two other incubation centers, one in Statesboro and one in Metter that is geared toward agriculture.
The Hinesville Business Incubator, which is about 5,000 square feet, uses a membership model and offers private offices, “hot” desks and dedicated pods or workspaces. There are training programs and mentoring assistance, along with getting plugged into BIG’s resources.
The BIG already has hosted BIG Cafés, meetings with business owners and entrepreneurs about how they got their start.
“It can be a game changer,” said Justin McCartney, chairman of the Hinesville Development Authority. “In essence, the incubator can help facilitate the American dream of owning and operating a successful business.”
The project started back in 2016, McCartney said, with the city and HAD taking the lead. Through its partnership with Georgia Southern, the city and the HDA secured a $750,000 grant from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Authority to help finish construction.
“We needed a partner and we needed funding,” McCartney said. “We found a partner in Georgia Southern and funding from the EDA. These were the critical pieces we needed.”
Its site along Memorial Drive and across from Georgia Southern’s Liberty campus was by design, too, he added.
“Locating this building here was no accident,” McCartney said. “It made perfect sense.”
The city still need help from a non-profit organization to complete its grant application. Howard reached out to the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce, which stepped in quickly.
“Small business owners get to know their customers, who they are, what they do, their children’s names. They provide personalized service you don’t get anywhere else,” said Chamber CEO Leah Poole. “We are excited to be a part of the small business incubator.”
GSU President Dr. Kyle Marrero cited the incubator partnership as a “true testament to collaboration.”
“We are excited to continue our legacy of supporting entrepreneurs and driving economic development growth to this region,” he said. “Our vision is for this to be a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship, a space where dreams can turn into thriving businesses.”
Dr. Marrero also encouraged spreading the word about the business incubator and what is has to offer.
“We are eager to welcome the innovators, dreamers and entrepreneurs who will make this space come alive,” he said.