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Regional entrepreneur program mulled

Friday, August 16, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin staff writer

Attendees at a small business roundtable Thursday reached a consensus to look into the possibility of developing a Certified Entrepreneurial Community program possibly on a regional basis, rather than take part in a statewide initiative.

Though details about the statewide initiative being developed were sketchy, among the possible concerns raised by roundtable attendees were the unknown costs and hierarchy.

More than 15 people — including business agency or business group representatives, entrepreneurs and property owners — attended the roundtable, hosted by the West Piedmont Business Development Center (WPBDC), the Martinsville Chapter of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) and the Virginia Business Incubation Association (VBIA).

James Martin of Front Royal, a member of the VBIA board of directors, who facilitated the roundtable, said Gov. Bob McDonnell designated 2012 as the Year of the Entrepreneur in Virginia. Also that year, “The Community Economic Development Alliance (CEDA) was formed to pull together the many efforts already in place with different agencies and organizations across the state to help localities deal with business development,” he said.

“One of the programs they are looking to initiate is a ‘Certified Entrepreneurial Community’ program to help towns, counties and areas become entrepreneur-ready. CEDA recognizes that entrepreneurship is best nurtured on a local, grassroots level.

“This certification is designed to guarantee that everything is in place, that the resources are easy to find, and the people behind them are knowledgeable, helpful, friendly and eager to assist. While the program has not been started, yet, it will probably look similar to one already in place in North Carolina,” Martin said.

The five steps in the process of certification are: assuring that the community is committed to the process; assessing the community’s current entrepreneurial landscape; creating a comprehensive strategy for entrepreneurial growth; marshaling the community’s entrepreneurial resources; and identifying and nurturing the community’s most promising entrepreneurial talents. That’s according to the website of AdvantageWest Economic Development Group, North Carolina’s regional economic development commission serving 23 counties.

Eva Doss, president/CEO of the Launch place, which provides entrepreneurship development and business consulting services, stated in an email, “The Launch place is supportive of the idea, but our entity is purely assisting the developmental process on an as-needed basis and as requested by the coordinators.”

She stated that as she undertstands it, the objectives of the alliance are to:

• “a) increase communication, education and collaborations for and between alliance members and create enhanced awareness of the existing and future resources needed to support community economic development.

• “b) establish a unified voice to elevate the importance of community economic development as a complement to traditional economic development practices.

• “c) educate policy makers, civic leaders and the public about the economic impact of community economic development and advocate for resources to better serve practitioners.

• “d) form networking relationships among organizations and individuals that can provide new insights and ideas that will advance community economic development best practices applicable to individual communities.”

Attendees at all or part of the roundtable included: Doss; Robbin Hall, executive director of the West Piedmont Business Development Center; Bob Brown, leader of the local chapter of SCORE; several other SCORE members; Dick Ephgrave, director of the Longwood Small Business Development Center; Margaret Caldwell, who is helping plan a new business; Virginia and Dr. Mervyn King, owners of several uptown properties; Darla Main-Schneider, owner, Rising Sun Breads; and Lynn Ward of the local United Way.

Several people cited the need to create more of an entrepreneurial spirit in the area and the need for better coordination of the many already available services, but they expressed concerns about how much it would cost to take part in a statewide initiative, who would pay for it, the burden of imposing additional costs on businesses, and the possibility of duplication of services and/or hierarchy from taking part in a statewide initiative.

“Aren’t we smart enough without the state” to set up such a program? Main-Schneider said among other things.

The discussion will continue at SCORE’s meeting. Brown said the roundtable showed the need for a broad-based, coordinated effort.


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