Flint project to promote grass-roots economic development

wcrenshaw@macon.comFebruary 25, 2014 

Morgan Law, left, president of the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Jay Flesher, of Flint Energies, discuss the former Flint Energies appliance center as a possible location for an innovation lab.

WARNER ROBINS -- Flint Energies wants to help start the next big thing.

The electric cooperative is launching a different kind of economic development movement to help tinkerers and entrepreneurs move from garages and backyard sheds to full-scale industrial production.

The centerpiece, which may be in operation within a few months, is a facility where entrepreneurs can have access to equipment and resources to bring ideas to life and get those products to market.

The effort, called Crowd Source Innovations, is being spearheaded by Jay Flesher. After working on the idea for months, he is beginning to present it to various potential partners, governing bodies and community groups.

On Wednesday, he is meeting with representatives of area colleges, technical schools and public schools. He is also planning a meeting soon for the community at large to discuss it.

With technological expertise among the thousands who work at Robins Air Force Base, Flesher believes the area is ripe for the effort.

“I just think that there is a tremendous amount of potential in the community and workforce that we have in the Warner Robins area, and something like this can unleash that potential,” he said. “A lot of different types of businesses could be started from the work that goes on after hours.”

His first goal is to bring entrepreneurs together in a network and then give them a place to share ideas and actually make things. The center would include such equipment as a 3-D printer, laser cutters and automated milling machines.

Morgan Law, president of the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce, believes Flesher is onto something important.

“We spend a lot of money and a lot of time chasing industrial prospects, and this gives us the opportunity to develop our own organically grown industrial sector,” Law said.

The location of the facility hasn’t been decided, but one possibility is the former Flint appliance center on South Houston Lake Road. It’s also possible that an agreement could be reached with a local college or technical school to create an area that both students and the general public could use.

Georgia Tech has a facility similar to what Flesher envisions, but it is not open to the public. There are some public facilities in other states, but the one in Warner Robins could be a first in Georgia, Flesher said. A public facility is being planned at Georgia Southern, but Flesher said the one here may be further along.

It wouldn’t be just for inventors. Anyone with an idea for a business, including a service, could potentially get some help through connections with various experts and resources.

Flesher said funding for the effort will come from grants and partnerships with education and industry.

James Hill, who owns Aging Aircraft Consulting in Warner Robins, has been consulting with Flesher. He said the facility being planned can help small businesses like his grow.

“If we had a project and we had to design something new, make a drawing and send it out to a machine shop, it’s quite expensive,” Hill said. “The cycle to innovate and develop these products would be so much quicker and cheaper. I just think it would be a great thing for the community in general.”

For more information about the project, visit www.csi-midga.com.

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