Economic Development in Burke: Supporting Small Business

Today’s editorial provides more information about the 2015-2016 Burke Development Action Plan in a continued effort to inform the community about how we carry out economic development work at BDI.

In this piece we focus on what BDI does to support small business, entrepreneurship and industry clusters. Organizations define small business in different ways. Many people think of small business as their local coffee shop, accounting firm or retail store. The U.S. government defines a small business as any company that employs 500 people or less, so it is no surprise that they consider 99.7% of all firms to be “small business”.

Since the recession there has been a greater emphasis on small business and recognition of the important role they play in the economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics from mid-2009 to 2011 small firms accounted for 67% of net new jobs.

How do we, as a community, support these entrepreneurs and business owners? In a 2015 Harris poll of 505 small business owners, 76% said they face marketing challenges. Additionally, 41% said their challenges included identifying and reaching new customer prospects while 32% said finding money to market their business was a challenge.

This is where organizations like BEBO (Burke Entrepreneurs and Business Owners) can play a critical role in a community. BEBO is a networking group comprised of all the organizations and entities that provide small business support in Burke County. This includes the Small Business Center, the Burke County Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Technology Development Center, the Agricultural Extension office and VEDIC – a local revolving loan fund – among others. Helping find solutions to these three challenges is imperative if we are to have a vibrant entrepreneurial community.

BEBO hosts quarterly networking sessions that provide opportunities for local entrepreneurs to meet with each other and share what they do. The next event is slated for Tuesday, Nov. 10, at 5:30pm at the Foothills Higher Education Center. Learn more about these events at www.facebook.com/bebonetwork.

The BEBO leadership team also serves as a working group that supports high-growth potential businesses. These scalable companies have an opportunity to present to the leadership team for connections to resources and capital.

As part of BDI’s sector focused work we assist in the growth of the Carolina Textile District, an organization that meets demand for US textile production. The CTD has been recognized by the International Economic Development Council as a successful multi-year economic development project.

In this same vein we are looking at ways to support and lift up other industry clusters – such as the machining and metalworking cluster. Burke County has an extremely high concentration of machining companies, which is a huge advantage for a rural community like ours. Two weeks ago BDI attended the SOUTH-TEC machining trade show in Charlotte to meet with industry representatives and learn more about this growing sector.

Another role of BDI in supporting small business is to ensure the appropriate availability of small to mid-size buildings and sites for these companies. To do this we develop partnerships with local and regional developers to create sites for growth and also verify the pipeline is complete for available local sites. We have seen an increase in requests for buildings in the 10-20,000 sq. ft. range so it is important that we seek out these smaller industrial properties and ensure they are ready for occupancy.

Ultimately, there is no magic bullet for how to support small business; however, by forming a network of providers that can collaborate to meet the needs of entrepreneurs and small business owners, and by maintaining our focus on the industry clusters where we have strong support, we are ensuring the infrastructure is in place to have a thriving small business community.

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