This story was written for our sponsor, the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership.
The Shaffer family isn’t just a dual-income household, they’re a dual-entrepreneur household.
Gary and Jessica Shaffer each run their own businesses. He is the founder and owner of Cornerstone Technical Solutions LLC, a veteran-owned business that specializes in delivering cutting edge hybrid-cloud and application solutions, while Jessica is a professional freelance photographer. Both work from their home office in Wake Forest, where they are also raising their young daughters, ages five and two.
“We have two little desks in our home office and it’s been great. Gary travels once in awhile for business, so I tend to have the lay of the land,” Jessica said. “As a photographer, location is everything and I feel like I’ve won the jackpot here.”
The Shaffers moved to Wake Forest in 2012 when Gary landed his first contract in Raleigh for his burgeoning business. Both he and Jessica were attracted to the lifestyle that Wake Forest seemed to offer. Choosing a place to call home in Wake Forest has provided a great backdrop to raise their little girls, and has also proven beneficial for both of their self-made businesses.
“When we moved to North Carolina, we did our research. One Sunday, my husband and I were driving around and came upon Heritage [a subdivision in Wake Forest where they now live], and we just thought it was so picturesque and beautiful. We could see kids running around the streets — we really loved the area,” Jessica said. “At that time there wasn’t a ton of economic growth here, but the area has really blown up over the last few years and has grown to our benefit.”
As Jessica pointed out, Wake Forest, from an economic development perspective, has expanded in recent years. Town leaders are working hard to make it a city that supports a thriving business community, in addition to its ingrained family-friendliness.
Places like the Wireless Research Center, a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to applied research and engineering, and international power grid company PowerSecure are reflective of both the town’s attractiveness as a business base, as well as the strategic efforts of local leadership.
“For several years now, the Town has strategically focused its economic development vision and resources toward supporting entrepreneurs,” said Jason Cannon, president of the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership. “Seeing families like the Shaffer’s develop and thrive in our community makes our work both worthwhile and gives credence to the Town’s significant investment in its local business community. The Shaffer’s are community assets, and we’ve loved seeing them grow and succeed here.”
Before moving to Wake Forest, Jessica had a full-time banking job and would take photography jobs on the weekends. As they were gearing up to move to North Carolina, Gary pushed Jessica to follow her dreams of becoming a full-time photographer. Upon their arrival, Jessica immediately started making connections through the Wake Forest community at church and at her gym, promoting her business along the way.
“I noticed that through these connections, my little photography business was starting to flourish in the area. It’s such a close-knit community; I found that networking with people was so easy. Wake Forest is a really rich environment where you can not only learn from others, but also grow your business,” she said. “I [also] have so many options for my clients [here], and we never run out of spots to do really cool shots.”
Jessica, who does a mixture of commercial, personal and wedding photography, loves to shoot in downtown Wake Forest and at Joyner Park. In fact, on a sunny weekend afternoon, it’s not uncommon to see Jessica and other photographers snapping away in the expansive 117-acre recreational space that features a pecan grove and old farm buildings.
It’s these types of interactions that turn into leads and referrals for Jessica’s client base.
“I’ve been growing my business 15 to 20 percent each year just from the one-on-one meetings that I’m having with people here,” Jessica said. “Photography has also allowed me to create memory albums for my children — my passion has always been to have a family.”
Jessica noted that being an entrepreneur gives her the flexibility to spend as much time as she can with her girls, and that having a husband who also owns his own business allows them to remain focused on what’s important.
“If there’s a really big project and Gary isn’t crazy busy at work, I’ll take that project on. We take turns — whether it’s for his company or mine. We decide what to do to keep our ship running as smoothly as possible for our family,” she said.
Gary, who is a Marine Corps veteran, worked in the IT field for years and wanted a new challenge. The nine-to-five monotony was getting to him, and a friend offered to show him the ropes of starting a business.
He launched Cornerstone around the same time the family moved to Wake Forest, and it has been the exciting challenge he was looking for.
“We work with partners like Red Hat, Google and Microsoft. Locally, we’re in a really great place. One of our main partners is headquartered in downtown Raleigh — Wake Forest is very close to Raleigh and economically made sense,” Gary said. “What first attracted us to Wake Forest was its suburban offerings, but since we moved in 2012, the business community has grown — we all know each other. As a technology company in Wake Forest, we’re excited about the advances here. We’re getting better infrastructure to help support our business and others.”
The Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership has been pushing hard to support the town’s network of entrepreneurs, which have businesses in everything from tech to workspace and more. A big help to both Jessica and Gary was running into Cannon, who encouraged the couple to maximize local resources and also helped facilitate introductions to those who could help their businesses thrive.
Wake Forest has many resources that entrepreneurs can take advantage of, such as its nine-week entrepreneur and small business mentor program, LAUNCHWakeForest, its Business Retention and Expansion Program, and several co-working spaces and incubators.
With more than 54 percent of its resident base having a bachelor’s degree or higher, the Wake Forest community is ripe with talent and innovative minds ready to monetize their great ideas.
The Shaffers have found success as entrepreneurs in Wake Forest, but it hasn’t been without hard work and a few bumps along the road — something both Jessica and Gary are transparent about.
“I think we’ve glamorized entrepreneurship a little bit — not every entrepreneur ends up on Shark Tank. Not every entrepreneur goes for serious funding. But if you want to start a business, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul. I think it takes a certain kind of personality to stick it out,” Gary said. “You will hear no’s a lot. And there will be times where you feel like you’re doing everything by yourself.”
“I’ve heard many no’s. From every no, I learned from that experience, and then I would pick myself off the ground and say, ‘Okay, well it’s time to change it up,’” Jessica added. “Never compromise on your dreams.”
No life is perfect, but Wake Forest has certainly helped fulfill the Shaffers’ dreams of business, family and community.
“What makes a town great are its people, and the relationships that we have formed here are amazing. Every person we have met has been truly genuine and invested in their community,” Jessica said. “Forming relationships with other people in your community makes you feel like you’re part of something greater. Wake Forest has really enriched my business. Moving here was a great investment; it was an investment in myself, in my family and in my business.”
This story was written for our sponsor, the Wake Forest Business Industry Partnership.