Here's What to Expect at TechWorks Gaston, a First-in-the-Region Technology Hub in Downtown Belmont
Except for some added paint and siding, the only exterior indication that things have changed in the old yarn warehouse at 52 Ervin Street are the long wooden ramps surrounding the building.
Other than that, the two-story brick edifice, located one-half block off of Belmont’s charming Main Street, looks much the same as it did when it was a cog in the booming textile industry.
Step inside the nondescript single door in the side of the building, though, and there’s a different story.
Long, rectangular lights hang above sleek, modern furniture. Sliding glass doors, seemingly without a frame, separate offices from common areas filled with shared desks and phone-booth-like nooks. Huge exposed wooden beams and brick walls are the interior reminder of the building’s past.
This is the new home to TechWorks Gaston. Its grand opening is April 5th, and I’m sitting on a stool at the end of a long bar in the middle of the bright, uncluttered kitchen area. Behind me are several small tables that would be at home in any coffee shop. Opposite those, a handful of shiny appliances waiting for their first use.
Sitting with me is Terry Cox, Executive Director of TechWorks Gaston.
“What is TechWorks Gaston?”
When I ask Terry the question, she chuckles and leans forward on the bar, preparing to tell me its bold mission.
“What we’re creating here is an entrepreneurial tech hub for the Charlotte region,” she states. “TechWorks Gaston will be a place for serious entrepreneurs to network and scale their business in a community that supports them, a learning community for students of all ages, and an opportunity for undeserved people to prosper right along with everyone else.”
If that sounds ambitious, it is. But for anyone that knows Terry, you’d expect nothing less. She exudes a consistent positive energy that makes you want to get things done.
Terry was recruited as Executive Director to help this project take shape in 2016. She had worked to help bring gigabit connection to Charlotte and, more recently, to Gaston County. Gigabit is an important part of the infrastructure needed for tech businesses to thrive. It allows them to move a lot of data, the way a railroad allowed factories to move a lot of products in the textile days.
Terry is also plugged into Charlotte's entrepreneurial ecosystem and leads a community of tech entrepreneurs in Charlotte called BIG.
She was the natural fit for the job.
She goes on to detail some of the plans for TechWorks Gaston. It’s a short list of three big things.
“We’re here to attract serious entrepreneurs and high-growth potential startups into Gaston County and provide them a community and office space built with intention.” The kind of intention that asks for businesses to invest in their communities and, conversely, to benefit from the community’s investment in them. It’s intentional in also creating an authentic entrepreneurial community where mentorship opportunities abound.
Considering TechWorks’ location in the amenity-rich downtown Belmont, companies who occupy the space will be 12 minutes from the airport and 23 minutes from center city Charlotte.
“And that proximity,” Cox says, “when paired with the fantastic quality of life that is offered here, is a major asset of ours. TechWorks’ mission helps contribute to Belmont and Gaston County’s continued progress in improving the economic opportunities for residents and businesses.”
How are residents benefitting from TechWorks? That’s the second thing.
By providing a tech education to students and increasing access to tech jobs.
TechWorks will maintain a robust curriculum of tech classes that educates Gaston students in essential job skills for the future, such as coding, IT, and cyber security (they’ve been running courses since 2017 but will now have a permanent space for them).
They’ve also prioritized females in technology, including programs for young girls, and upward mobility for the low to moderate income population. There will be specially-designed coding and other technology classes as well as a digital road map with digital literacy tools and training. And there will be regular events, like lectures and workshops. “We’re speaking with schools about how to work with kids in grades K-12,” Terry says.
Perhaps the most interesting thing TechWorks Gaston is building has nothing to do with computers or coding or IT. It’s a community in real life where people can come together and tackle challenges.
“There’s nothing better than face to face collaboration,” Terry says. “TechWorks Gaston is a place where a recent college grad can shake hands with people who are looking for skilled workers. And where entrepreneurs can help each other overcome obstacles to growing their business.”
The third thing TechWorks will do is transform and propel Gaston businesses forward by providing them courses and programs that enable them to compete in the digital economy.
A regional resource
For now, everything is quiet and calm here except for a few last minute preparations. A man is hooking up flat screens in the front common area. A few people stop by to speak with Terry; she’s always in demand.
The mood will change at 11am on April 5th. That’s when the ribbon gets cut on TechWorks Gaston. Terry expects an at-capacity crowd for the grand opening.
Entrepreneurial leaders from around the region will be here. So will the chambers of commerce and officials from city, county, state and federal governments. Of course, there will be members of the press, taking photos and collecting quotes.
They won’t be there just to gawk at the amazing design, as impressive as it is. They’ll come because TechWorks Gaston is unique. Not just in the county, but in this region.
“We didn’t want to just take a step forward to keep up with other counties,” Terry explains. “We wanted to leapfrog and take the lead.”
The super-fast internet and tech talent pipeline that TechWorks Gaston will provide will attract attention from others, as well. Mainly, serious entrepreneurs looking for the right place to start or move their operations.
That means new growth and new jobs.
Not just jobs coding or designing websites, although they will be there. It means jobs in modern factories where computers and technology are as important as a wrench. It means jobs in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, virtual and augmented reality.
It also means that local students may have high-paying, challenging jobs right here in Gaston County. They’ll have the choice to live in the communities they grew up in, instead of moving across the country to find work.
Kyle Robinson knows just how great that is. She is a partner at Wellzesta, a software company serving residents of senior living communities. She’s also a Gaston County native who returned when Wellzesta moved their headquarters here. She says TechWorks is going to be a huge draw for attracting other businesses like hers.
“TechWorks provides a place for connection, shared knowledge, and resources where businesses like ours can collaborate, discover new talent, and give back to the next generation of entrepreneurs.”
Looking to the future
If you suggest to Terry that she was the driving force behind TechWorks, she’ll be quick to call out all the people that made it happen.
“We would not be here today if not for the fantastic team,” she said. “The TechWorks Gaston Board, local foundations, the design and construction crews, as well as the State of North Carolina, Gaston County and the City of Belmont. They all got behind this project in a big way.”
Even with grand opening next week, there’s already talks of what’s next. Terry will continue to work on getting gigabit connection throughout Gaston County. And there are other potential TechWorks sites being eyed up for future expansion.
For now, we congratulate the hard work of everyone that helped get this first-in-the-region entrepreneurial technology hub to this point.