It’s time for change, creativity
By Larry Dale
Daily Courier Staff Writer
Part 6 – July 12, 2009
SPINDALE – With so many workers unemployed or underemployed, people with a passion for a particular type of job are eyeing the possibility of starting their own business.
Entrepreneurship is increasingly being seen as a viable way to create jobs.
Forest City’s NC STEP (Small Towns Economic Prosperity) program application in February 2008, for example, said, “The Town must build an entrepreneurial-friendly environment and be a community where small to mid-size entrepreneurial firms want to locate.”
So assistance, particularly state assistance, is available for those who want to try starting their own business.
Isothermal Community College is a vital component of that help.
Ted Hamrick, interim director of the Small Business Center at the college, said he sees some people who want to start a business but aren’t sure what type of business they want, and others who know absolutely what they want.
“Sometimes people come in that don’t know,” he said. “They want to open up a small business, but they don’t have an idea yet. Usually with those individuals we will sit down and sort of go over what they’re interested in, what their passions are about, what their skills are, and try to come up with some idea that they could open up in Rutherford County. And when we do that we try to fit that particular business in with not only what will fit in Rutherford County but also with the economy we are currently in, that would be suitable for both. And that they can make some money on.
“Other individuals may come in and have an idea, and there is a wide array of different problems they may have. The majority of those people need financing, and sometimes their credit is good and sometimes their credit is poor. We have ways to help them improve their credit.
“In addition, we give them information about borrowing money through a bank, through the Small Business Administration, through the North Carolina Rural Center, and different opportunities there.”
Hamrick said banks “are still tough on financing,” but he added that there are other options.
“They (banks) are looking for good credit, good collateral,” he said. “But if that is not the possibility we can turn to the Small Business Administration and the North Carolina Rural Center, which may be a little bit more able to make some of those loans.
“The Small Business Administration guarantees loans. They don’t make loans. They work with the bank to guarantee loans, up to 90, percent.
“So there is hope out there. It’s always good when people’s credit is good or if they’ve got collateral or if they’ve got co-signers, but if not there is still hope out there that we can get some more financing through other means. We can give them all that information at our office here.”
Hamrick said other issues often come into play as well.
“In addition to financing, they may need marketing skills,” he said. “Or they may never have owned their own business and just need to know general information about licensing permits, taxes, and we can give them that information.
“But most importantly, when they don’t have any of that, is to give them the proper training. And we have those tools here at Isothermal through our REAL (Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning) class. That class is 100 percent about opening your own small business and entrepreneurship.
“It is very successful. In that class, in addition to learning all about owning your own small business from start to opening the doors, there’s a lot of good contacts in there to .help them as far as getting different ideas, maybe networking about their own small business and conversing with. other people that v want to do the same thing they are.”
The NC REAL Web site says, “The NC REAL Mission is to develop entrepreneurial talent through action, learning and to foster the creation of sustainable enterprises throughout North Carolina, with special emphasis on rural communities.
“The NC REAL Vision for the people and communities of North Carolina is a healthy, vibrant economy in which small business and successful entrepreneurial activity plays a vital role, where people develop the skills they need for productive participation, and where all people with entrepreneurial interests and aspirations have access to high quality entrepreneurship education.
“Since the REAL program began in 1985, over 12,000 entrepreneurs have received intensive training.”
Angie Grohwin, who took the NC REAL class in Rutherford County, said in July 2008, “From A to Z in running a business, they did it. I certainly would recommend it for anybody who wants to start a business. It’s a good preparation.”
Hamrick said the local NC REAL course is being made part of a new venture at ICC.
“In the past, it’s just been a course through the Small Business Center,” he said. “This coming August it’s going to be offered through the Business Science Department,, and now our residents in Rutherford County can get a degree in entrepreneurship. That’s one of the courses that’s going to be offered through that.”
In conjunction with NC REAL, additional help, called Project GATE, is being offered for workers that have been laid off or who lost their jobs through a plant closing.
The NC REAL Web site says, “GATE stands for Growing America Through Entrepreneurship. Beginning in April 2009, rural North Carolinians who’ve lost their job through a layoff or plant closing will have an opportunity to explore possibilities for self-employment through Project GATE.”
Isothermal Community College is one of eight community college Small Business Centers participating in Project GATE.
Hamrick said he believes strongly that small businesses have a key role to play in the current economy. “Since we’ve been in recessions in the past,” he said, “it seems like small business is what usually pulls us out of those recessions. I think the same is going to be true now.”
With the economy struggling, Hamrick said, the government is stepping up to help would-be small-business owners.
Effort to interest youth in farming
“One good thing about opening a small business right now, too,” he said; “is the government is putting more emphasis on small business now than I’ve ever seen before, with stimulus packages and maybe more leniency as far as borrowing money, and just putting a lot more emphasis on helping people. Both state and federal. Federal disbursed a lot of that money to the state, and it’s come down to the level we are at, including some new loan programs the Small Business Administration has, like the 504 Program and the ARC Program, for existing businesses.”
Hamrick said the SBC can help existing businesses as well as startups.
“The people that have existing businesses, they will come in, and again, they are having a problem with a certain phase of their business, maybe they need to expand, or they are having a problem with some people or things like that,” he said. “We can provide some, information about that, or technical training in some of those arenas.
“We’re just here to help people. It doesn’t cost them anything.”
Hamrick said he has small business experience in Rutherford County. “So I know some of the ins and outs,” he said, “but I don’t have all the answers. If we don’t have them, we will be glad to try to find them somewhere else.”
Hamrick talked about the important role of small-business people.
“They’re not only making their own employment, but a lot of times they are increasing the employment for other people in Rutherford County through their small business,” he said. “And when you stop and think about it, probably small business is one of the big employers, if not the biggest employer, in Rutherford County, because I think we have over 2,000 small businesses in Rutherford County, according to the Chamber of Commerce.
“It makes me feel good that Isothermal and myself can help these individuals come in here with some hope. And also it helps our economy; it certainly helps Rutherford County. So I’m privileged to be able to assist in that in some small way.”
He said it is encouraging for everyone to see the successes.
“We have many success stories that have developed,” Hamrick said. “I’m really pleased with the success of some people, and the strides they have already made, sometimes: in a very short period of time. A lot of them come in here, and they just don’t know. What is the next step? What do I do next? I’ve got this idea, what do I do with it?
“And we try to assist them with going forward to start that small business and hopefully make a livelihood for themselves and other people.”
Hamrick said he also tries to put people together who might be able to assist each other.
“I had a guy come in the other day who was very strong on solar energy, and utilizing; reusing energy,” he said. ‘And I hooked him up with a guy that is in the chicken business. So together, I hope, they are going to be able to come up with a way to cool those chicken houses very economically. And it will help both of them financially, to be able to do that. So a lot of times we will do that.”
Hamrick said he has worked with people in the poultry business and with people who want to start their own restaurants and use food that they have grown, but he has not seen farmers come in to ask for Small Business Center assistance.
Tim Will, executive director of Foothills Connect Business & Technology Center in Rutherfordton, is working to change that.
Will, in conjunction with schools, is encouraging young entrepreneurs who have an interest in agriculture.
“Foothills will continue to seek grants to fund the sustainable agriculture programs that it has assisted in creating at R-S Central High School and Thomas Jefferson Classical Grammar School,” he said recently.
“These programs are essential in establishing a feeder pattern of informed and motivated students who will seek a career as entrepreneurial owners of small farming businesses.”
R-S Central agriculture teacher Brandon Higgins has indicated, for example, that several of his students have expressed an interest in having a greenhouse to grow microgreens for the Charlotte market. “More and more people are finding out the secret of the Small Business Center and utilizing these free services to assist them in profit and nonprofit organizations,” Hamrick said. “It is just amazing how many different ideas people have in Rutherford County, what they come up with about opening a small business.
“It’s everything. Child care to organic chicken farmers, wine distribution, eco-friendly campgrounds, skateboard rinks, gaming, it’s across the board. Every day it’s something different, and something, truthfully, that I would never have thought of. And some of them are great ideas. Some of course better than others.”
Hamrick said the Small Business Center works to give people the chance to remain in Rutherford County, if that is what they want.
“Most of the people that come in here, they’ve been on a job just like I have, and got laid off, and they don’t have anywhere else to go,” he said. “Sometimes it may be their last opportunity (to work in the county). Unless they are going to drive to Charlotte or move, there is just not the employment here to sustain the numbers of people that are out of work. These people desperately need help. I hope more and more can open up their own small businesses, and they can be successful.
“Truthfully, when I go out to lunch I try to use a small business. I think we really need to support small businesses in Rutherford County. That’s what this department is all about.”
Reprinted with permission from The Daily Courier. Copyright owned by The Daily Courier.