Economic Summit highlights innovation, growth in Alamance County

The 14th annual Economic Summit, hosted by the Alamance County Chamber of Commerce and presented by Elon University, brought together local business leaders to discuss innovation and growth in Alamance County and beyond.

The Alamance County Chamber of Commerce hosted the 14th annual Economic Summit inside the LaRose Digital Theatre at Elon’s Martha and Spencer Love School of Business Thursday.

Each year, the Economic Summit brings community leaders together at Elon to discuss the economic outlook for Alamance County, the region and the state. Elon’s Love School of Business served as the presenting sponsor for this year’s summit, which was themed “Innovation and Entrepreneurship in a Global Economy.”

Haya Ajjan presents at the 14th annual Economic Summit at Elon.

“For nearly a century, North Carolina has transitioned from an agricultural and traditional manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy and an innovation-based economy that’s fueled by sciences and technology,” said Haya Ajjan, Gordon Professor in Entrepreneurship and director of the Center for Organizational Analytics, who moderated the summit’s panel discussion.

Ajjan highlighted the growth of businesses and entrepreneurship in North Carolina. She also referenced figures from the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office that shows, over the past year, 689 new businesses have been established in Alamance County, which Ajjan says, is a sign of the power of innovation.

Ajjan led a panel of local business leaders in a discussion about how innovation and growth can continue in Alamance County. The panel included Ian Baltutis ’08, owner of Vibration Solution, LLC, and mayor of Burlington; Douglas Calaway, owner of Your Local Greens; and Lauren Birrittella, senior curator and color, material and finish specialist at Glen Raven, Inc.

Douglas Calaway offers his insights about innovation during a panel discussion.

The discussion focused on several topics related to encouraging innovation in the workplace, including ways to effectively foster change and growth along the way. Birrittella says the key is for team members to feel comfortable sharing their ideas.

“People don’t like to change,” Birrittella said. “So, [Glen Raven, Inc. has] the habit of just encouraging people to share content with others. We’re asking them to share new ideas for new business opportunities or process improvements or any way we can grow our customers’ businesses, our partners’ businesses, our business.”

The panel also focused on the discipline and creativity required to unleash innovation. Calaway, who took two companies public as a CFO and CEO and was twice nominated for Inc. Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year award, said the key to successful innovation is to put the right people in the right positions.

“You have to listen to what your customers want, and then go hire the right people for each one of the disciplines,” he said. “Then, you have to let them do their jobs and just make sure they’re going in the right direction. That’s a hard thing to do for entrepreneurs — you want to get in there and do it yourself, but don’t. Just get out of the way.”

The conversation later transitioned to ways to improve entrepreneurship and innovation efforts in Alamance County. During the question-and-answer portion of the panel discussion, a beginning teacher from Graham, North Carolina, asked the panel about how to encourage her students to become entrepreneurs in their hometown.

Ian Baltutis ’08 discusses the importance of local entrepreneurship during the Economic Summit.

“So often, when we say ‘entrepreneur,’ we think of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, but in reality, your small business owner is an entrepreneur,” said Baltutis, whose vibration reduction company began as an idea during his time at Elon and has since grown to create more than a thousand products. “For the students to be able to see an opportunity in their hometown, to see an opportunity on Main Street to provide a service to their neighbors, is really what our country is built on and what our communities grow stronger on. So, encourage them that, to be an entrepreneur and gain that mindset helps them to make their communities stronger.”

Corporate sponsors for the 14th annual Economic Summit included Alamance Community College; American National Bank & Trust; BB&T; Burlington Pediatrics; Cone Health – Alamance Regional; First Bank; Gilliam Coble & Moser, LLP; Glen Raven, Inc.; LabCorp; Manpower; Pinnacle Financial Partners; Prime Personnel Resources, Inc.; Samet Corporation; Twin Lakes Community; Wells Fargo; and Westgate Triad Mitsubishi.

For more information about the annual Economic Summit and the Alamance County Chamber of Commerce, visit the chamber’s website here.