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Entrepreneurial expansion

January 11, 2012

Bright minds like Derek Detweiler and Todd Lewis are just what Catawba County needs. At least that’s what area leaders and business pros are saying.

Detweiler and Lewis, both in their 30s, are code writers who founded Gopherwood Studios in 2008.

Using HTML5, they develop web games for PCs and smart phones, some of which have attracted the interest of Google in the U.S. and have even been picked up in Europe. That’s not bad for a couple of guys pumping out code in Detweiler’s basement.

“Right now, we’re staying busy and are busier than ever,” Detweiler said. “We’re getting a lot of traction.”

They are entrepreneurs — a breed of businessman that government officials and economic leaders say the Greater Hickory region needs more of to survive.

Those leaders gathered Wednesday at the Crowne Plaza in Hickory to hash out what needs to be done in the future to make sure Catawba County is a thriving economic and entrepreneurial area.

Government managers, county planners, real estate professionals, local businessmen and women, and area residents all had different ideas about how to create a better entrepreneurial environment, but one thing was clear — it can be improved.

“I’m not from this region originally, but moved here bringing technology to the area, and the truth is that it’s been a hard road,” said Peter Lohr, president of Advanced Hydrogen Technologies Corp. (AHTC) in Morganton.

AHTC produces and licenses hydrogen-powered cartridges that provide baseline power and can be used in a variety of applications and fields, including the manufacturing, automotive, aerospace and defense industries. Lohr said his company offers a cost-effective and sustainable alternative to current powering technology that assists companies in the region.

Recently, Lohr’s technology won third place in the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce’s Edison Project, which highlighted entrepreneurial ventures in the community.

However, despite being located in a dense manufacturing area and having a competitive technology, Lohr said it’s been “very hard” to get potential business partners on board and even harder to get companies to give him their time.

“I think it’s been getting in front of a person that is in a position to do something about it. I can give dog-and-pony shows all day, but if it’s not someone that can do something about it, then it doesn’t matter,” Lohr said. “I came from the Washington, D.C., area, and honestly, I feel like if I was in another area, my business would have taken off.”

Detweiler and Lewis, who won second place in the Edison Project, said the entrepreneurial environment can be improved, but said organizations like the Chamber are helping it move forward.

“The Edison Project was a huge step forward,” Detweiler said. “For us, we are on the technology side, and the Edison Project helped us do everything we wanted to do on the business side.”

Moving forward
Economic leaders say if the Hickory Metro wants to grow, it has to nail down specific actions to make that happen.

Ted Abernathy, executive director for the Southern Growth Policies Board, said a great place to start building a entrepreneurial-friendly area is with businessmen like Detweiler and Lohr.

“The best place to start with growing your entrepreneurship base and finding out about the issues is asking your entrepreneurs,” Abernathy said.

Abernathy, who led most of the conversations Wednesday, said building a foundation across the trade and other business sectors is essential to growing a thriving entrepreneurial community. He said that attitude can go a long way, too.

“If you tell people all day long that things are sad in Hickory, no one’s going to come,” he said. “A lot of it is about attitude.”

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