The Innovation Centre

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 16, 2007

Helping Dallas County grow

By Rett Rivers

The Selma Times-Journal

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The American Dream is the belief that through hard work and determination, one can live in prosperity. In Selma, people have that capability with the help of The Innovation Centre.

The Innovation Centre, located

on Highway 41 South, five miles south of Highway 80, began about 10 years ago as a joint venture between Wallace Community College Selma and Pioneer Electric. It was designed to help small companies and entrepreneurs in the growth of their products and services by providing an environment and a facility where this could be accomplished.

When Pioneer Electric began managing the facilities and Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, was able to attain the necessary funding, this incubator-type set-up became a reality.

Today, George Alford and Brenda Tuck work as economic and community development consultants. The goal for The Innovation Centre and the small businesses is that they will eventually grow large enough to move &8220;down the road&8221; to the 400-acre South Dallas Industrial Park.

There are many benefits for a small business beginning in The Innovation Centre. &8220;Businesses are able to come in and share facilities, which reduces the start-up costs,” says Alford. “We also are able to provide marketing help for the businesses.”

When someone has an idea, the first step they must accomplish is the business plan. This allows the person to realize how much time, hard work, and effort will be needed to make the business possible. Statistically, 85% of small businesses fail, and it is usually due to undercapitalization or the lack of determination to make the business work.

While many people have specialists write their business plans, it is beneficial for the company to write their own. It is often said that the thought process is a lot more important than the plan itself.

David Rockefeller, a renowned American businessman, once said, “Success in business requires training and discipline and hard work. But if you’re not frightened by these things, the opportunities are just as great today as they ever were.”

The first few years for a beginning business are very difficult. “New businesses don’t make money for the first 3-5 years,” says Tuck.

When someone comes to The Innovation Centre with a plan, it is not the job of the center to decide whether the business will work or not. Tuck says, “It is our job to provide the tools to the business so that they can make an educational decision.”

While the 10-acre Innovation Centre may seem like it would only be able to cater to so many businesses, The Innovation Centre assures that everyone is helped. “If we don’t have space here, we work to find it in the area,” says Tuck.

The Innovation Centre is now full with eight businesses. “It’s been real successful,” says Alford. “We work closely with Menzo Driskell, executive director of Craig Field Airport and Industrial Authority, and EDA Director Wayne Vardaman to bring new industry to the Selma area.”

The businesses that operate out of The Innovation Centre and South Dallas Industrial Park have a quarterly luncheon where they are able to share business ideas with each other. “At the luncheon, we want to make sure that the companies realize the new incentives,” says Alford, “and the businesses try to help each other succeed.”

Wallace Community College Selma and Dr. James Mitchell, President of WCCS and Chairman of The Innovation Centre Board, have been very important to the center’s success. Dr. Mitchell has encouraged this hands-on experience for the students at WCCS. The Innovation Centre offers a work-study position with a WCCS student every year.

“We teach them about what they need to do in business, and we help them get better jobs in the future,” says Tuck.

It creates a win-win situation for WCCS in that they are able to contribute to new industry in Selma and to help their students find jobs.

One success story from The Innovation Centre is Rayco Industrial, Inc. Rayco began in August 1998 at The Innovation Centre with five employees to work mainly with the pulp and paper industry.

After increasing its employee count to nearly 250 in about seven years, Rayco now operates in a wide variety of construction, including pipe fabrication and installation, structural steel, and equipment installation.

Ray Harrelson, President of Rayco, realizes how important The Innovation Centre is to his success. “The Innovation Centre helped to make this possible. We were able to get financing, office space, and a shop to get started,” says Harrelson.

Harrelson also added that he has quite a few skilled employees from WCCS that work at Rayco. Rayco has also achieved The Innovation Centre’s goal of moving down the road to the South Dallas Industrial Park.

It is possible to live the American Dream, and Selma is fortunate to have The Innovation Centre available for help. Tuck added, “It is important to know that all the jobs here are growing and expanding, and Selma is a thriving place.”