Greensboro developer wants to create innovation district

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Located on the corner of South Elm Street and West Gate Boulevard, many think of the Old Greensborough Gateway Center as the gateway to downtown. Developer Andy Zimmerman believes the old denim factory will have a new future as a magnet for tech jobs.

"This is a historic site that we're reworking to be a tech center,” Zimmerman said.

He envisions a place where people can meet, work and collaborate. Zimmerman even wants to bring an indoor market into the space, seeing a need on the south side of town.

Another vision for the space is expanding something Zimmerman helped build.

"When we first started HQ, I never thought we'd be looking at expansion space, let alone so quickly,” HQ Co-Founder Ken Causey said.

Causey and Zimmerman want to possibly double or triple the capacity of the entrepreneurial hub HQ, which has been in the southern part of town for a little over two years. It already has 180 members and the demand is still high.

"Real job growth happens at a small level,” Causey said. "Small companies that can hire one, two, three, four people grow to eight, and it's easy to form 100 of those, 1,000 of those."

The space is close enough to HQ that with a little landscaping work, it will be a pleasant 30 second walk between the buildings.

But that expansion and an indoor market are appetizers for the main course: an innovation district, with the Gateway Center as the hub.

Just across the block is Union Square, an established example of innovation in the area, but Zimmerman thinks there’s even more potential south of West Gate City. He’s seen the success of Winston-Salem’s Innovation Quarter and believes there’s a strong market for companies to start up innovation offices outside of their corporate headquarters.

"Winston-Salem is focused on the bio-tech,” Zimmerman said. "And I think we're gonna be focused in other areas. I consider us makers here in Greensboro."

Zimmerman has already been recruiting local universities, including UNCG and NC A&T to get on board, along with North State Communications. He’s still looking for partners.

Zimmerman says the Gateway Center will be open this year, but the name may change with the new focus on innovation.