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Brunswick County’s business and economic development leaders learned at last week’s entrepreneurial conference that nurturing small business owners is a key to a vital economy.
So what can they do to encourage business start-ups as well as support existing businesses?
“Entrepreneurs are like fish: If you box them in, they won’t grow. They need support,” said Leslie Scott of the Rural Economic Development Center at the conference.
Scott talked about two communities in North Carolina—counties around Rocky Mount and Boone—that made nurturing small businesses a priority, meeting regularly and identifying new entrepreneurs, figuring out what they need and meeting those needs.
She provided participants at the conference, organized by the South Brunswick Islands Committee of 100, with a copy of “Fueling Your Business” a guide for people interested in starting a business, and with a copy of a publication designed to spur young people into thinking about becoming entrepreneurs.
Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Cathy Altman said she was impressed with the conference, and the chamber encourages entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs, specifically since so many of the chamber members are small businesses.
She agreed with conference speakers and panelists who said small businesses are the ones who are going to stay in the county and be good corporate citizens. They need to be nurtured.
“We’re a membership organization. We have so many entrepreneur members of the chamber. Silver Coast Winery is a great story of an entrepreneur. I think if the community is aware of the opportunities and are given the tools they need, they can probably develop a very successful business.”
Altman said she and her staff do all they can to nurture small businesses and also refer would-be entrepreneurs to the Small Business Center at Brunswick Community College and to the local chapter of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Entrepreneurs).
Tom Hemphill, director of the Small Business Center, said he was impressed with the high quality of the conference’s presenters, specifically their long history with economic development and their knowledge of new technology and ideas.
Hemphill said his department was in the process sending out surveys to assess the needs of local businesses, and now, he’s going to do the assessment differently, thanks to what he learned at the conference.
“We’re going to do much more direct interviews with entrepreneurs,” he said.
The goal of the SBC network is to facilitate business start-ups with training, counseling and access to a resource library, according to Hemphill, who has overseen quite a few start-ups since coming on board eight months ago.
“The relationships are very solid here,” he said. “I enjoy working with all three chambers. I came from a community college where the atmosphere was not nearly as productive. It was dysfunctional. I don’t see that here.”
Hemphill says he has a great relationship with Brunswick County Economic Development Director Jim Bradshaw, and their communication will improve because of the conference.
Hemphill said he was disappointed in the number of people who attended the event, but he says once the word gets out, it will be something people plan ahead for.
“This is the kind of thing we needed,” he said. “It educated us, but it also validated what we’re doing.”
For his part, Bradshaw says what he learned at the conference was that someone needs to take the lead in determining the needs of the county’s small businesses and how to meet them.
“My main concern is who’s going to take the lead,” Bradshaw said. “One entrepreneur can take all your time.”
He said SCORE members and other retired people could be valuable resources in that regard.
“It’s important that Brunswick look at encouraging more entrepreneur activity in the county,” he said.
“With that we need to provide the training, services and assistance and use as many groups as we can including SCORE and the Small Business Center.”
sarah shew wilson is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.