KNOW(2)‘s BGEN (pronounced “begin”) is an inclusive initiative whose primary purpose is to advance economic development and improvement through innovation, partnerships, building community capacity, investing in next-generation business leaders and entrepreneurs. BGEN’s main activities include assisting new businesses in the startup phase to include retail space, private office space, a virtual entrepreneurship program, as well as creating and strengthening authentic partnerships with Cherokee County schools, colleges, and community organizations.
Of the six counties in South Carolina that are part of the U.S. Appalachian Regional Commission, only Cherokee County is designated as “at-risk”. The county’s unemployment and poverty rates are comparatively high while educational achievement and per capita income are comparatively low.
The City of Gaffney and the surrounding county have a long history of success in manufacturing, but few local entrepreneurs. Gaffney could be an excellent location for many different types of companies with direct access to 1-85 and two international airports only 45 minutes away. Downtown Gaffney boasts stunning architecture and a walkable layout with three districts on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2015, Gaffney became a certified Main Street Community designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. An analysis conducted during the application process reported a need for a younger, innovative business community which could lead to (1) more innovation, (2) more professional jobs for local college graduates, (3) a boost to the struggling downtown area, and (4) a significant positive economic impact on the overall community. Aside from the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce with very limited resources, there was a shortage of local support capacity for new business development. While there are two local colleges, few of the professional level graduates are retained in Gaffney. Limestone University has an MBA program whose graduates find scant local opportunities. Spartanburg Community College (Cherokee Campus) has a new mechatronics facility that will teach highly valuable machine and electronic skills, yet much of this newly trained talent will find work elsewhere. The community desires for these graduates to stay but Gaffney does not have a strong diversity of good, professional-level jobs and until BGEN, there was no one to help them on the path to developing those skills into a viable business. BGEN was designed to address these challenges.
BGEN has been led by Brian Ziegelheafer since March 1, 2016. Mr. Ziegelheafer has been a key player in the overall success of BGEN. From managing the construction and design of the physical space, program direction, development of the branding, graphic design, web development, entrepreneur recruitment, and the overall management of the day-to-day operations, Mr. Ziegelheafer has been the driving force behind BGEN’s rapid success.
Thanks to the partnership and generosity of the City of Gaffney who provides BGEN our building at no charge, Cherokee County, and numerous businesses and people that donate to KNOW2 (that would be too much to list here), we are still here serving the needs of entrepreneurs and small business startups in Cherokee County. In 2021, we added local entrepreneur and small business specialist Natalie Claire Bradley to BGEN’s staff as Assistant Director. We just doubled in size within the last year to 7000 sq. ft and now include modern, private office space that in turn added more retail pop-up space opportunities. Our most recent graduates of BGEN are Zakary’s Coffee Shop and Broad River Boutique. Both are located in retail spaces downtown. Our current list of residents as of March 2022:
- Peach City Brewing (opening downtown in Spring 2022)
- Hybrid Grind Coffee
- Pretty Please Custom Eats
- Jess Made Company
- Keen Elite Massage
- Basket Case Formal Wear
- Repair One
- Carson’s Creations (virtual resident)
- City of Gaffney Main Street Director – Drake Scott
- Foodshare Cherokee
With continued support, KNOW2’s BGEN will always be the hub of progressive and innovative thinking, action, leadership, and training for our resident entrepreneurs as well as our local and extended business community of Cherokee County, SC.