Siler City - Homegrown Tools

Siler City, NC

Updated: 2022

This small town is capitalizing on the economic value of arts-based small businesses. Through a unique partnership with a regional community college, Siler City is nurturing the creativity and entrepreneurship of local artists.

Median Household Income2020$38,977
Poverty Rate 202021.9%
Proximity to Urban Center 36 miles to Greensboro, N.C.
Proximity to Interstate Highway 32 miles
Case Study Time Frame 2000-2006
Municipal Budget proposed 2021-202217.7 million
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
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Siler City is working with the Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) to create an innovative arts-based small business incubator. Beginning in the late 1990s, Leon Tongret, the former small business director at CCCC, saw an opportunity to harness the energy of local artisans toward the revitalization of downtown Siler City. After securing financing, a portion of which came from the local government, Tongret renovated three buildings in downtown Siler City and gave birth to the North Carolina Arts Incubator. Since 2003, the incubator has triggered a minor renaissance. The North Carolina Arts Incubator has turned a loose collection of artisans into an economic sparkplug that is helping to revitalize downtown Siler City.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


Small business incubators, whether focused on artists or other entrepreneurs, must provide training and support, along with affordable space, to catalyze economic development. One of the innovative characteristics of the North Carolina Arts Incubator is its recognition that artists need space, but they also need the ability to network, mentorship opportunities and small business training. Newer artists in the incubator may need continued training in their respective craft. The professional arts and crafts program, the only one of its kind in North Carolina, was developed to teach artistic skills and business skills relevant to operating a craft studio and gallery. “I went to the incubator daily and helped the artisans understand loan terms, find new markets and put together business plans,” Tongret said. By providing affordable space and training, Siler City, CCCC and the North Carolina Arts Incubator have brought about a down- town renaissance and facilitated the creation of new small businesses.


Demonstrating success helps to build support for your efforts. Tongret attracted bank funding for the incubator project by demonstrating the economic potential of six existing artisans, essentially making the case to the bankers for the success of the project. The incubator’s initial success, and the strong buzz created in the community, helped convince local government leaders to invest in the continued renovation and expansion of the facility. Success stories of local artisan tenants were instrumental in building the case for grant funding from the Rural Center.


Strong partnerships and visionary leadership are necessary ingredients for success. The success- ful establishment of the incubator in Siler City was the product of a partnership among the community college, local government and statewide organizations like the Rural Center, all facilitated through the visionary leadership of Leon Tongret. Together these groups were able to see the potential behind focusing on artist entrepreneurs who are not usually considered targets for incubator development.