Ian Baltutis: Burlington’s 31-year-old mayor

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BURLINGTON, N.C. -- He’s not only making news. He’s making history.

At just 31-years-old, Ian Baltutis is the youngest person ever to serve as mayor of Burlington.

He’s originally from Minneapolis and came to the Piedmont Triad as a student in the Entrepreneurship Program at Elon University. He became mayor in 2015 after unsuccessful runs for mayor and state house.

“We think this is an amazing community that has small town appeal, but big city amenities,” he told me recently when I visited Burlington City Hall.

He admits his biggest challenge has been overcoming the age perception. “I mean, most folks say, 'I don’t even think you’re old enough to vote, let alone be mayor,'” he said. “It’s a unique opportunity and I find myself just like my entrepreneurial endeavors having to chart my own course.”

His first entrepreneurial endeavor was The Vibration Solution. It’s a company he founded in 2007 with a fellow Elon student as part of their senior project in Elon’s Entrepreneurship Program.

Its flagship product: “Silent Feet.” They’re polyurethane anti-vibration pads that fit under washing machines to reduce noise and movement. It’s one of Amazon’s top sellers.

“So now we (The Vibration Solution) have over 900 different products and we’ve branched out into the sporting goods market with shoe insoles and athletic padding.”

He says Burlington’s biggest challenge is economic development. But he’s approaching it with a different strategy.

“Traditional economic development looks at those big employers and how do we attract them,” he said. “But over 80 percent of jobs are created by small-to-mid-size entrepreneurs.”

And supporting those entrepreneurs has been a key part of Burlington’s downtown redevelopment.

Steam Junction is a maker’s space that opened in the fall of 2016. For a monthly fee, entrepreneurs can come here and use high tech and other equipment to launch their first products.

“If you look at thriving downtown communities all around the country, there’s usually a brew pub at the center of it, right?” Baltutis asked me. He’s heading up an effort to combine his love of entrepreneurship and home brewing to create what will be a beer brewing cooperative in the center of downtown.

It will serve specialty brews from homegrown recipes -- along with food. More than 1,600 people have paid $100 each to become “owners” of Burlington Beer Works. They hope to open the pub within the next 10-12 months.

“We have a tremendous wealth of resources in land and proximity and people,” Baltutis says. “And what we’re doing now is combining all those resources and focusing on how do we re-ignite this flame of entrepreneurship that’s always existed in the community.”

For more information on Baltutis, click here.