PEMBROKE — A new executive director. A revamped board of trustees. A renewed focus on supporting existing businesses.
The perfect ingredients, say both tenants and managers of the Carolina Commerce and Technology Center, to ensure the business park located just outside Pembroke has a bright future.
“Starting out, a priority has been to focus efforts on supporting our existing businesses and ensure that COMtech remains a truly special place,” said Ryan Nance, the park’s executive director since April 1. “Significant investments have been made here, so it’s important that our actions add direct value.”
Nance, who is a former project manager for the Lumber River Council of Governments, told The Robesonian earlier this week that improving economies, both nationally and in the state, have businesses talking about expanding and relocating rather than talking about closing their doors. He said that since becoming COMtech’s executive director, he has fielded numerous calls and emails from businesses interested in what the park has to offer.
“Right now, we are working to revamp and create new marketing tools,” said Nance, who earns a base salary and also has incentives in his contract. “Upgrading our website to highlight COMtech businesses, park infrastructure, and assets of our towns and regional economy will help. Interactive park maps and a smartphone app will be developed to stay competitive. We are now registered with LinkedIn, which is an easy and inexpensive way to expand our network and recruiting efforts.”
There are 41 businesses with about 1,000 employees located in the 700-acre park that began operating in 2001, and is designed to provide homes to technology-focused businesses, industry, educational facilities and business incubators.
Until the hiring of Nance, COMtech had been without a full-time executive director since October, when Ken Windley, a former Robeson County manager, resigned after his salary was cut from $90,000 to $30,000 as a result of county Board of Commissoners reducing funding to COMtech. The park was temporarily managed by Tony Normand, its first executive director, and Ronnie Hunt, the chairman of COMtech’s board of directors.
When Nance took over, he inherited a newly established fee structure for tenants that most are now happy with; a revamped board of directors that now includes two representatives from a newly formed COMtech Landowners Association; and a move back to the park’s original mission of supporting economic growth and job creation not just in Pembroke, but throughout Robeson County.
“Everyone is now on the same page,” Nance said. “The grand vision for COMtech is to serve as a 21st century educational resource and to provide customized training. Its growing capacity is a key resource for the county, and what matters is to grow jobs for the county.”
Hunt, who has served as chairman of COMtech’s board of directors for 13 years, sees a bright future for COMtech under Nance’s leadership.
“He is energetic and learning fast,” Hunt said. “Most of the problems we have had in the past have been worked out and fixed. We’re now moving ahead.”
Hunt believes if the park “develops to full fruition,” it will be worth the struggle it has been to make the project a success.
“We have the infrastructure now in place,” he said. “What we need is a good technology-based company to locate here. If we could land a good technology company, it would just be time before other types of businesses would be built around it.”
Ray Townsend is chairman of the COMtech Landowners Association and a member of COMech’s board of directors.
““I’m optimistic since the new association has formed,” said Townsend, whose wife Debra owns Riverwood pre-elementary school, located at COMtech since 2006. “The appointment of our chairman and vice chairman to COMtech’s board of directors is conducive for good things to happen.
“The concept of COMtech is good and it’s good for the county,” he said. “I know that there were some things that weren’t going well in the past, but we are moving ahead. We’re moving forward and not looking back.”
“The ingredients for success are here, as our communities are rich in culture, faith, and resources,” Nance said. “Although there are many pathways to success, our ability to attract private investment from outside the region is critical. That will help retain homegrown talent and grow the pie, instead of just moving things around.
“Together, we’ll make it happen, and I’m very optimistic about our potential, especially given the amount of early support from around the county. Whether it comes from the business community or localgovernment, everyone’s ready to get things rolling again.”