Service Entrepreneurship students engage with local leaders to develop business incubator in Clinton

February 13, 2023

Presbyterian College’s Service Entrepreneurship in Action class is working diligently to build a business incubator in Clinton – and learning a lot about economic development as they go.

The class taught by professor of political science Dr. Ben Bailey and PC president Dr. Matthew vandenBerg has met weekly this semester to further establish the incubator, to support small emerging businesses, and plan for its continued success.

“I am immensely grateful to our City of Clinton partners for co-venturing with the college to develop a business incubator in the downtown,” said vandenBerg. “PC’s service entrepreneurship class is an exciting learning opportunity for our talented students and a valuable mechanism to engage them in that meaningful economic development and community building work.”

Recently, PC introduced the class to two local leaders who know firsthand what it takes for communities to thrive as destinations to live, work, and visit.

Laurens mayor Nathan Senn and Jonathan Coleman, president and chief executive officer of the Laurens County Development Corporation, were invited to share their ideas and success stories and brainstorm with the class.

“Mayor Senn and Mr. Coleman are terrific partners of PC and are both renowned locally, statewide, and even nationally for their efforts to facilitate economic development, nurture businesses, and support responsible growth,” said vandenBerg. “Our students can learn a great deal from them about how to attract, strengthen, and promote businesses in Clinton.”

Senn, an attorney and Laurens native, is in his first term as mayor but has already made a name for himself through efforts to create a sense of community and excitement around the Public Square in Laurens.

“Our job is to create an economic environment where people want to start a business,” he said.

Weekly events like Friday Night Live and annual events like Squealin’ on the Square and the Piedmont Blues and Roots Festival draw crowds from around the state to enjoy the city’s hospitality and potentially do business, Senn said.

The City of Laurens also has built on its brand as a charming, historic, Southern town by finding innovative ways to renovate old buildings and attract new businesses like Rootimentary, a locally-owned steak house. PC’s development of the Capitol Theatre as a performing arts center, movie theater, and esports arena will also attract visitors to downtown Laurens, Senn said.

Overall, Senn said the strategy to build Laurens’s brand as an up-and-coming city is working.

“It’s literally like turning on the light switch,” he said. “There was nothing and now every Friday night, there’s live music, which made us a really vibrant city and makes it a more attractive place to bring investors.”

Though Coleman’s role as an economic developer in Laurens County is on a larger scale, he told students their community involvement makes a difference. He also told them not to wait but volunteer.

“That’s how you really, truly make things better or make change happen, not just sit on the sidelines,” he said.

At the LCDC, Coleman said, positive change in Laurens County comes about by increasing the county’s tax base, creating new jobs that pay higher wages, and boosting household income and population growth to support local small businesses and sustain a higher standard of living for all.

“Job creation is the number one driver of what we do,” Coleman said. “Obviously, recruiting industry to the county is part of that but there’s more that goes on underneath that. Workforce development – trying to establish a talent pipeline in the county to work in these jobs – is important wherever you work, whether it’s at PC, or the hospital, or a manufacturer.”

The work economic developers are doing is working, Coleman said. From 2015-21, Laurens County added nearly 2,500 manufacturing jobs and reaped more than $863 million in new investments and expansions.