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Features County renews focus on growing entrepreneurship

EDC teams with town and SCC to host small business seminars

There’s a new catch-phrase for economic development and entrepreneurship: “business gardening.” Just as in gardening, in economic development, the business environment must be prepared before planting, and once the young seedlings begin to grow, they must be fertilized and nurtured until they are ready for harvest.

This may sound just like the philosophy of Chauncy Gardener, the character played by Peter Sellers in the movie “Being There,” but it’s not.

“We’ve known for a long time that entrepreneurship is where we’re going to create the majority of our jobs,” says Trevor Dalton, coordinator for Macon County’s Economic Development Commission. “We want to grow our businesses right here in the county.”

To this end, Dalton and the EDC board have been taking steps to attract and encourage new small business startups. Over the past year, the EDC has been in the process of renovating the county’s Business Development Center, a facility at the Macon County Industrial Park intended for use as a business ‘incubator’ for startups and for entrepreneurship training and other services. In order to attract more attention to the Business Development Center, Dalton will be moving his office to the facility in the coming weeks.

For years the 17,000 square-foot facility has housed the drivers license office of the Department of Motor Vehicles in one corner and a production line of a local metal pipe manufacturer in the largest space, but the majority of the building has been left unoccupied or used as a storage closet for the county. The hope, says Dalton, is that by holding meetings with EDC clients and entrepreneurs at the center, word will get out that the facility is ready and waiting for business startups looking for cheap overhead and a place to get established.

“We want people to understand that this is a facility that we can use to ‘garden businesses,’” Dalton said, joking that the EDC had considered renaming the facility the Macon County Gardening Center. Besides providing space for startups, Dalton says the facility will also be outfitted with a classroom for use in future training courses and seminars for small business owners and entrepreneurs. His office will also be the first stop for individuals looking for information on grant and loan opportunities and other resources available to businesses looking to set up or expand in Macon County.

“Hopefully we can develop our outreach to give people some tools that they can really use,” said County Manager Jack Horton of the EDC’s renewed focus on entrepreneurship. “It’s very important for us to try to cultivate, nourish and grow entrepreneurs here in the county. That’s the focus that they’re concentrating on, and I think it’s a good way to go right now.”

NC-REAL seminars for small business

In another initiative, the EDC is now partnering with the Town of Franklin, the Franklin Chamber of Commerce and Southwestern Community College to offer a series of seminars for small business owners and hopefuls.

The seminars are being organized by NC REAL, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping bring entrepreneurship and small business creation to North Carolina. NC REAL, which stands for North Carolina Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning, provides educational programs and support for adults or youth interested in entrepreneurship.

According to Dalton, some of the classes will be particularly geared toward small agricultural businesses. He notes that there are three strong farmers’ markets in the Franklin area, a community which the EDC would like to see grow.

“We want to support these people that are growing food and making products at home and selling them at these markets,” said Dalton. Some seminars in the NC REAL series will be specifically geared toward these individuals who are knowledgeable in agriculrure but may not be as proficient on the business end of things.

The classes, which are to be held Southwestern's Macon campus, will run from the end of June through October. The free and/or near-free seminars will be open to all. Linda Schlott, director of Franklin’s Main Street Program, said that a database of contacts pooled from the EDC, the Chamber and SCC was created to get the word out about the classes.

“We’re trying to work together because we’re all working toward the same thing: bringing jobs to our area,” said Schlott of the partnership. “We want to do these classes to support entrepreneurs.”

Schlott noted that an initial pair of classes held at Town Hall focused on using the social media website Facebook to promote small business was very well received. “We had a great turnout for the two Facebook classes we had,” she said, adding that because of their popularity the same classes may be offered again in the future. “Facebook is free and you can do a lot with a Facebook page if you are a small business.”

Two other special internet classes scheduled for later in the summer will also be held at Town Hall: an internet marketing class and a class on using “Google Places” to market your business. Both classes are free and open to the public.

For more information, contact Schlott at (828) 524-2516.

NC REAL Upcoming Seminars

— Small Business Operations (Human Resources and Business Structure), July 21
— Marketing Your Product/Service, Aug. 4
— Business Financials (Cash Flow and Break Even Analysis), Aug. 18
— Small Business Taxes, Sept. 1
— Bookkeeping Basics, Sept. 15
— Business Use of Your Home, Sept. 29 and Technology in Small Business, Oct.13

These classes are available, in part, due to a NC STEP grant given to the Town of Franklin to support entrepreneurship and small businesses in Franklin.

For more information, or to register, contact Brittany Emerson at (828)339-4227.


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