The Triangle region is known for its community of innovators and is home to well-known companies including SAS, Cisco and IBM. Scattered among these large, international companies are also dozens of tech startups and small- to medium-sized businesses that have found a home here too.
While Raleigh and Durham are often thought of as cities where tech companies thrive, just a short drive away in Garner, tech entrepreneurs are finding success in a fast-growing town on the rise.
“Garner has a good business community, and I can live, work and play all in the same place,” said Jay Strickland, founder and CEO of WingSwept, a business-to-business technology services company based in Garner. “It’s been great to grow as part of the economy in Garner. The business climate is friendly and welcoming to new businesses, and access to talent is plentiful. Our team members love the area.”
WingSwept provides managed IT services to small and mid-sized businesses across several industries, including the non-profit sector, agriculture, construction and more. It was one of the first homegrown tech firms in Garner and has been ranked as a Best Place to Work in the Triangle for the past four years.
Strickland, who moved to Garner 20 years ago, noted the competitive cost of living, Garner’s proximity to other areas of the Triangle and reasonable commutes for his employees as a few reasons why the town has been a great home base for WingSwept.
“With the lower relative costs of operating and living, we are better able to offer our customers great talent at reasonable prices,” he said. Strickland added that his location in Garner enabled WingSwept to chart its own path without competing with larger companies in a space like Research Triangle Park.
Competition is something that entrepreneur and PGA professional Matt Reagan knows all about.
He and his business partner, Ryan Dailey, channeled their professional athletic experience and love of golf to co-found Operation 36, a coaching program that leverages tech platforms and innovative instructional methods to help golfers progress and bring their “A game” to the green. The curriculum can be catered to both juniors and adults and follows a “play, learn, train” model.
“Operation 36 matches challenge golfers to shoot the target score of 36 for nine holes. The format tests scoring skills first by starting 25 yards from the hole and allows golfers to progress back as their skills develop,” the Operation 36 website explains.
Using the money that they were earning from their coaching programs, Reagan and Dailey invested in the creation of a web and mobile app that is now on both iOS and Android platforms. The mobile apps allow users to log when they play and when they practice, and all of the data goes back to their coach.
Operation 36 is located in the Gearworks “bridge space” on East Main Street in downtown Garner. In 2018, the Town renovated the building and made it a space for lease where small, scalable companies that are not ready for traditional market-rate office space can bloom.
Town officials see Gearworks as part of a larger strategy by the Downtown Garner Association and Garner Economic Development to “grow the creative-class and tech cluster in the historic downtown.”
“It’s a good space for us — it’s a pretty neat spot. Garner is the most central location for all of our employees,” Reagan said. “With everyone scattered around the Triangle, it works well for us. We were doing a lot of remote work, and we knew we wanted to get the team together and build a culture, without making coming into an office a stressor on anyone.”
Compared to rental rates in downtown Raleigh or Durham, leasing an office in downtown Garner is significantly more cost effective. In addition, Reagan noted, Garner’s proximity to Raleigh is a bonus, as Operation 36 works with partners in the capital city. Reagan said he can be in downtown Raleigh in 10 minutes or less.
Reagan said while he is new to Garner, he’s been pleasantly surprised with how accommodating the town has been and the level of access he’s been privy to regarding crucial conversations about the town’s future and innovative goals.
“I know a little bit more about what’s going into their economic development, which isn’t typical entrepreneurship stuff, but there’s a lot of legwork there,” Reagan said. “The Town of Garner really wants to welcome these types of [tech] folks in, and it’s trying hard to put in the infrastructure and let people know that there’s a business community here.”