Incubating great work in Grayson
By Beth Volpert
Co-working, incubating, off-site mentors and downtown development authority are all words floating around the building at 438 Grayson Parkway in downtown Grayson, GA. The address is home to The Grayson DDA and its latest project, The Grayson DDA Business Incubator.
Founded in 2009, the DDA’s mission statement includes “undertaking public improvements that have the greatest impact in strengthening the downtown area, attracting new private investments and fostering economic, cultural and social growth.” For a town that has long used the tag line: Gwinnett’s Best Kept Secret, Grayson has had to make changes to accommodate significant growth over the past several years. The DDA and Business Incubator are working toward helping to direct that growth.
The first occupant to sign on to the Business Incubator program is an online marketing firm owned by Jonathan Wofford. “I had a conversation with the DDA Manager, Gail Lane, about this place,” said Jonathan. “I had known her for a while and like many great ideas, it started with a business conversation.” Wofford, former Director for Community Relations for the Greater Eastside Chamber of Commerce, thought that the opportunity to begin a new business had the right synergy in Grayson and he considers himself fortunate to be able to utilize the knowledge and expertise of the DDA Board of Directors and other related advisors. “I have a vested interest in making sure that not only my business will be a success, but that I will also be able to provide others with jobs within Grayson.”
Gail Lane, DDA Manager explains the Business Incubator not only as a place to encourage new business, but to also foster growth in the business community as a whole. According to Lane, former Mayor Jim Hinkle activated a DDA and put people with DDA and CID experience in place as founding board members. There are seven members total on the board with one member being a City of Grayson Councilmem-ber. “Our first chairman, Jimmy Norton, came to us with a great deal of experience and that helped us with beginning the Business Incubator,” says Lane. “It was our current chairman, Chip Mitchell, who suggested that we explore the idea of an economic incubator.”
According to Lane, the building which houses the DDA is owned by the City of Grayson and leased by the DDA. The building was purchased with SPLOST funding in 2010 and the first intent was to use the property to store city property. “There were these unused offices in the back,” says Lane. “It was a good place to start.” Lane goes on to say, “The DDA is funded by the City of Grayson and the first year’s budget came in around $100,000 with this year’s budget being $50,000.” The financial support of the City allows the DDA to rent their space for a limited time at rates that are below current market rental rates for office space. According to Lane, office space currently costs in the range of $12-$15 sq ft. “We try to be flexible to meet the demands of entrepreneurs and help them stay economically healthy here in Grayson,” adds Lane.
DDA Chairman, Chip Mitchell came to the board with more than ten years of economic development experience with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Appointed to the Grayson DDA when it was first created four years ago, Mitchell was able to bring his expertise to the local economy. Currently, Mitchell is a local City of Grayson resident and works with his wife, Katie, at her real estate company, Elevation Realty. He was also recently appointed by the governor to the Board of Community Affairs.
With great experience and exceptional credentials, Mitchell is confident that Grayson will continue to grow and foster a stronger business center; a sustainable ‘Live, Work and Play Community’. “There is a basic toolset for all community economic development,” says Mitchell. “It must be tailored to the local economic priorities.” One of the first priorities for the Grayson DDA was to foster successful business relationships between owners of all types of business. To achieve that goal, Mitchell and the board began to explore options for supporting small business owners. The incubator idea was not new, but as Mitchell pointed out, it had to be tailored to Grayson. “We work with each individual to create a plan that will take them from a fledgling business to supporting themselves within a year.” After that first year, the DDA continues to offer support by means of an advisory panel in such areas as: legal, real estate, accounting and marketing. “We are continually seeking skill sets that will benefit Downtown Grayson’s business owners,” says Mitchell. “The idea is that they will hire locally and the cycle will continue with more businesses utilizing the incubator to get started.”
With office space now being occupied by Jonathan Wofford and his growing group, the DDA and Business Incubator are expanding into both a co-working model and an off-site model. “You might have a restaurant wishing to locate in Grayson,” says Lane. “We obviously can’t have a food service company begin in the 438 Building, so we offer mentoring and the same training/support programs to them off-site.” In addition to the offices, the DDA offers a co-working option with as much or as little support as is needed. For a business person who works from their home, meetings can be an issue. The building offers a professional atmosphere in which to meet clients and sales people, at a reasonable cost, without having to host them in a personal home or public setting.
The future of the DDA and its Business Incubator are as bright as the economy will provide and as creative as the business owners who bring ideas to the table. Wofford says, “If I am able to give the DDA a good return on their investment, I will have succeeded in promoting community job creation which means I will have met the goals set forth by my business plan and personally.”
For more information on the City of Grayson’s Downtown Development Authority and the Business Incubator: www.graysondda.org.
Jonathan Wofford in his office at the Grayson DDA Business Incubator. (February 2014)