Jonathan Butler sees sustainability in the simplest of devices.
"I went to Brevard and I got this fabulous stapler," he was saying, from the roof of the old Landmark apartments, which he owns. "Because you buy a stapler nowadays and they're just junk, you know, plastic and it might break after a month. I got this industrial really good stapler for like a dollar or two."
It was a used stapler, of course. Butler points to the cleared ground below and describes the way contractors salvaged nearly everything when they knocked down the two old Landmark annexes and two carports.
Some 9,000 bricks are stored in and around the city-owned Grey Hosiery Mill. Butler delights in talking about a device called a de-nailer, which rapidly shoots nails out of old boards so the lumber can be reused. An old railing from the annex will be repurposed into a bike rack.
It's all part of Butler's passion and his vision for Biz611, a business incubator that he is building as home to entrepreneurs in software development and green industries. The two-story 10,000-square-foot building is going up now north of the old Landmark Apartments, at a cost of about $1.3 million.
If Butler is green-oriented today, his background is pure capitalism. A software programmer since he was a teen-ager, Butler was one of the developers of the computer programing that revolutionized stock trading.
"We used to run all sorts of trading models, and trade our own money," he says. "We would trade millions and millions and millions of shares a day. I can just remember the 'big Russian debt crisis' and all these crazy things and the machines would just be humming and we just grew exponentially."
With all that growth, the financial world took notice. Citibank bought the company that Butler and his partners built, the Automated Trading Desk, for $600 million in cash and stock. Butler says it would be misleading to assume he received a large chunk of that. The company was owned by many investors and venture capitalists, and some of what Citibank paid was in restricted bank shares, which soon plunged in value.
Still, Butler's take was enough to enable him to buy and renovate the Landmark, which he and his family use when he comes up from Charleston. He and his wife have three boys, ages 17, 15 and 17. "I've got a musician and a basketball player and then one who does a wide variety of things," he says.
And now he has embarked on Biz611, which could transform the block on North Church Street into a beehive of entrepreneurial activity.
A match of minds
It's no surprise that Butler found his way to Ken Gaylord, a Hendersonville architect who specializes in energy-saving, sustainable construction.
"I have not had a client that's as committed to green values as Jonathan Butler is," Gaylord says. "This building will be the most modern and green-oriented that we've done. It's exactly the type of client that we've oriented our business toward all these years. In this case he's leading us. It's really fun to be in that dance."
To Butler, there are no givens when it comes to saving energy or water or reusing material that others casually throw away. He and Gaylord had lengthy discussions about whether to pipe hot water into the bathrooms. They finally decided they would, but would use an efficient form of energy to heat the water. Solar panels will not only generate electricity but will be angled to shade the south-facing glass in summer.
The roof forms a trough that will catch rainwater.
"We're going to put that into several cisterns on one end, and then there's a catchment on the other end," Butler says. "So we're going to try to reuse as much rainwater as we can. We've already talked to the city about having this system set up where we're going to try to pump water using solar power up into a tank, and that water will be used to flush the toilets. They said we may have to add some blue coloring dye to it.
"We're trying to do as many innovative things as we can that will help showcase how this can be a sustainable building."
Butler and Gaylord have designed the interior as functional and adaptable. Butler learned from his experience with two successful incubators in Charleston, Flagship I and Flagship II, how space can be used to ignite creativity.
"We've got a large area reserved as not really a conference room but a presentation room," he says. "What we've had a lot of success and feedback from is putting on events and things at the Flagship and I'd really like to see that here, where ECO can hold its workshops and some of their smaller events."
Butler is on the board of ECO, the Environmental Conservation Organization, and it will be one of the first tenants.
"There's a lot of common space in here and you wouldn't expect that in most office situations. We found that three's a lot of camaraderie and discussion of topics that happen around the kitchens, and if there are some seating areas, people will go there for lunch and get physically out of their office."
He says the best ideas don't come when people sit at their desk and stare at computer screens.
"I've actually seen some studies where going into an unfamiliar space can help stimulate your creativity," he says.
'Changing the culture'
He seems to be a fountain of ideas, such as giving the wall space over to artists for rotating exhibits, having Friday cookouts to fuel networking and idea-sharing, and mounting an exhibit that shows how sustainable construction works. But he is no idle dreamer. If the Automated Trading Desk got its start in a garage, Butler sees the next generation of entrepreneurs benefiting from a more inspiring space.
"What sets this apart from other incubator projects," says Andrew Tate, CEO of the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development, "is that Jonathan brings to the project his own entrepreneurial experience and the capacity to coach and assist these folks, and he investing in those companies through this incubator project."
Gaylord says that the Biz611 concept exists nowhere in Western North Carolina, not even Asheville.
"I think it's the most significant thing I've seen in the 22 years I've been in Hendersonville with potential to change the culture," he says. "If you look at the track record of the Charleston Digital Corridor, it has spawned numerous small businesses, and at least a couple of them have grown into major businesses."
Butler says he has been pleased with the help he's gotten, from Tate at the Partners for Economic Development, and from Hendersonville City Manager Bo Ferguson, who has helped guide the project through some regulatory questions.
"We kind of asked ahead, we went into the planning office and said, does this sound like this is even doable?" he said, referring to the reuse of rainwater to flush toilets. Bushes and trees outside will be tailored to the climate so they don't require much water.
He expects to recruit smaller companies, of no more than four or five employees each, to Biz611.
"I really think we can draw some very positive attention to the area with this," he says. "One of the things we've done at the Flagships is we have some small spots called touchdowns. Say you don't really need a formal office, there's some little areas where you can go and plug in your laptop, you plug in your charger, you work in there, you don't have a full office."
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