A former Atlanta entrepreneur presented plans for a business incubator and accelerator in the River District to the Rome Redevelopment Committee Wednesday.
Bob Grigsby, who moved to Rome last year, said via teleconference that he is seeking an Appalachian Regional Commission grant of $761,259. The incubator would be near the intersection of West Third Street and North Fifth Avenue.
The project would be operated by a nonprofit named Rome Around.
“The gist of what we’re looking to do is build an innovation center focused on organic job creation,” Grigsby said. “It’s tough for Rome to bring a couple of hundred right now, but I think through this mechanism, we can build five, 10, 15 to 20 companies, with five, 10, 15 to 20 jobs (each).”
He said the idea is to keep some of the most talented young collegiate minds in Rome and attract new young professionals as well.
Grigsby’s BSW Capital Group is partnering with the Appalachian Investor Alliance on the project. They plan to use Rome as a test market for the job creation concept for use throughout the Appalachian region.
The incubator model offers space for start-up companies to launch. The accelerator part of Grigsby’s model is an education program with a defined start, a defined finish and defined curriculum behind it.
Responding to a question from City Commissioner Craig McDaniel about local partners, Grigsby said both Georgia Highlands College and Berry College have committed to participate. The state’s Center for Innovation is also on board, he said.
Rome Commissioner Wendy Davis, who chairs the committee, said she’s glad to hear about the developer’s access to capital for the project. She expressed enthusiasm for the fact that it would be a private enterprise — rather than a government-based entity like the Georgia Northwestern Technical College small business incubator on Callahan Street.
“That kind of collaborative partnership is very exciting to me,” Davis said. “The layer of job creation that we’ve been missing is that sort of middle layer of students coming right out of college and having something to launch their careers.”
Grigsby told the committee that job growth does not necessarily revolve around a company moving its plant from some city in Ohio to Rome.
“That’s taking jobs from one place to another,” Grigsby said. “Job creation is really organic job creations and that’s really what we’re focusing on ... It’s about one or two guys starting a business that are in turn going to create and generate multiple jobs in the community.”
When asked by Commissioner Jim Bojo where the center would be located, Grigsby said he has about two and a half acres and eight buildings in the River District under contract.
“It’s to be determined, exactly which buildings we’ll be putting that in,” Grigsby said.
The plan is to incorporate the innovation center into a mixed-use development, which would provide a source of revenue for the center.
“We’re creating a sustainable mechanism — not an innovation center that is going to disappear in two years when we run out of any grant money,” Grigsby said.
He said Rome has “three great test beds for health related innovation,” referring to Floyd Medical Center, Redmond Regional Medical Center and Harbin Clinic.
That will give the center the ability to attract startups focused on health information technology and related businesses.
“It’s about taking advantage and utilizing the resources that we have, promoting those and bringing in additional business that will support that,” he said.
The committee was not asked to take any formal action regarding the proposal Wednesday.