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Homegrown entrepreneurs pivot and grow in Nash County

Posted August 5, 2021 5:00 a.m. EDT

This article was written for our sponsor, Nash County Economic Development.

The Triangle area has long been known as a hotspot for startups and major corporations alike. But immediately east of the Raleigh-Durham area, Nash County is quickly making a name for itself as a hub for homegrown entrepreneurs large and small.

Many of the most significant companies in Nash County are in the advanced manufacturing, food processing, and distribution and logistics fields — largely due to the county's prime location on I-95 along the east coast and ample training opportunities. But as the county continues to grow, a diverse swath of businesses both new and established are finding success within its borders and beyond.

Braswell Family Farms — a fourth-generation, family-owned company who says its "mission is to glorify God while providing the safest, highest quality eggs and feed"— has called Nash County home for more than 75 years.

Since starting, BFF has become the second-largest Eggland's Best franchisee in the United States and one of the larger organic feed producers on the east coast.

"Our family business began as a water-powered gristmill on Stony Creek, and back then we were making cornmeal as a food ingredient, then progressed into making custom feed for everyone’s farm animals once we moved in town. Our next move as a company was raising baby egg-laying hens, and we were able to sell them to egg companies that produce the eggs all up and down the east coast. Since then, we've gotten into egg production ourselves and now are vertically integrated. We buy raw grain and baby chicks and handle the rest all the way to your favorite grocery store," said Trey Braswell, current president of Braswell Family Farms. "The location has a benefit for a business like ours, that operates not only locally, but also outside of the local environment. Being centrally located on the east coast and on main travel corridors in all directions has been a great benefit."

For many farms during COVID-19, there was a surplus of goods due to restaurants and other major buyers shutting down or reducing operations. While Braswell Family Farms already regularly donates their eggs to the community, they saw the increased need and worked with other egg farms and companies to give back.

"A big reason we run our business is to be able to give back and to look for ways to impact our communities through service projects with our people. We saw a need during COVID, and there were egg producers that had eggs and couldn't find a home for them. Sometimes we just bought eggs to help out the egg producers and then, in turn, donated them to help out food banks," said Braswell. "We saw a way to help provide for two needs. We also worked with Ripe Revival Market, which is a subscription service that brings different North Carolina products to your door. We put eggs in their box, and it gave people an opportunity to get their staples without having to go to the store."

While some of those in the agriculture industry were able to use their strengths to give back during COVID, other businesses — like restaurants and breweries — were forced to operate at reduced capacities. For many new businesses around the country, these regulations led to major profit losses or permanent closings.

In Nash County, however, support from the community was a major factor in helping small businesses stay afloat.

At Spaceway Brewing, a craft brewery located in Rocky Mount, Nash County, that support was on display through online orders, curbside sales and GoFundMe contributions.

"The community has been really supportive, especially in the beginning. When COVID hit, it was such a surprise, but I had so many people ordering and contributing and showing their support," said Briana Brake, owner of Spaceway Brewing.

Brake had always been interested in brewing, homebrewing her own beer for years, but since there were few to no black female brewers in the industry, she hesitated to enter the industry professionally. After leaving law school and hearing of the success of another black woman in the brewing field, Celeste Beatty of Harlem Brewing, Brake decided to make the leap.

She was able to link up with Beatty and discuss her goals of brewing beer professionally. While Brake initially wanted to open her brewery in her hometown of Durham, Beatty shared an opportunity with her for a brewing incubation space in Rocky Mount, Nash County and the two started collaborating there.

"Craft beer is fairly new to Rocky Mount, and I started brewing at Rocky Mount Mills around all the other breweries in the area — so it's been cool to have that community. The other brewers are there to help out if you've got questions or need help with anything. Rocky Mount is a great area in that respect, and getting started there has really helped in getting Spaceway's name out there," said Brake. "I've got my new taproom open now closer to the downtown area, but I still brew at Rocky Mount Mills. It's been great to be surrounded by all the art and culture in the area."

Brake has come a long way since her first days in Rocky Mount, Nash County. With a new space opened, freshly packaged cans — with art designed by Durham's Studio Two — and socially distanced events on the calendar, Brake hopes Spaceway can become a gathering place for the Nash County community, while also paving the way to further put black female brewers on the map.

The unique benefits of being located in Nash County have played a major role in Spaceway's growth thus far, and Brake is well on her way to creating her own signature brew.

"I brew stouts, I brew IPAs, I brew cream ales — but I don't have anything that I'm just like, 'That's the one,'" said Brake. "I just recommend people try craft beer period, and Rocky Mount is a great place for it."

This article was written for our sponsor, Nash County Economic Development.

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