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CCCC Small Business Center aids job creation

SANFORD - Small business creation is on the rise and Central Carolina Community College's Small Business Center has a major influence on that in the college's service area.

In fiscal 2010-11, 458 people visited one of the Small Business Center offices in Chatham, Harnett or Lee counties seeking information and counsel on starting or growing businesses. Of those, 266 were interested in starting their own businesses and 192 already owned businesses but wanted to improve or expand them.

The SBC helped clients start 40 new businesses and saved or created 290 jobs - the highest level of job creation/retention among all 58 of the SBCs in the state, according to the North Carolina Community College Systems Small Business Center Network (www.sbcn.nc.gov), based on client feedback.

"The objective of the Small Business Center is job creation and retention," said Dale Fey, over-all director of the college's SBC, who works with clients in Lee County. "We do that by providing high quality, readily accessible assistance to prospective and existing small business owners. We are a community-based provider of education and training, counseling, referral and information.

Jeff Debellis, Director of Marketing & Research Services for the University of North Carolina System's Small Business & Technology Development Center (SBTDC), noted that approximately one out of every five jobs in North Carolina is a business owner. The majority are individuals who run their own businesses. (See "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Recession: Everyone Became an Entrepreneur," in the 2011 State of Small Business and Entrepreneurship: Small Business Activity & Promise Across North Carolina, www.sbtdc.org/pdf/ssb.pdf/.)

Starting one's own business requires having not only determination and a marketable skill or knowledge, but also being savvy about how to create a successful business. That's where CCCC's Small Business Center comes in. Each of its three directors came out of the private sector and speak from experience when counseling with clients about what it takes to be successful.

Fey, who holds master's degrees in business administration and entrepreneurship, has held a variety of senior level management positions as well as heading several entrepreneurial ventures.

Gary Kibler, who heads the college's Chatham SBC, holds a Master of Business Administration. He was a senior vice president for international firms, such as Timex Corp., before becoming a partner in Northpoint Communications Products. He also ran his own marketing consulting business. After he retired, he volunteered as a counselor at the Chapel Hill Chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) before coming to CCCC.

Nancy Blackman, a CCCC graduate, owned and operated a family farming and trucking business for 20 years prior to becoming the Harnett SBC director. She is also the director of the Triangle South Enterprise Center and runs the USDA-Rural Development Intermediary Relending Program for the Dunn Area Committee of 100, Inc.

The growth in interest by individuals seeking to start small businesses during a recession comes as no surprise to these directors. Blackman said that the Small Business Center has a lot of people coming in who have lost their jobs or are worried about job security.

"They are thinking that now might be a good time to start their own businesses," she said.

Kibler added, "It can actually be a good time to start a new business because it's a natural period of evolution and change. However, there will always be a few key ingredients to any successful startup: It takes a good idea that meets a need in the marketplace; it takes perseverance; if you need to borrow money, it requires that you have a decent credit rating and some money of your own to bankroll the idea; and, it's critical to have the support of your family."

The directors sit down with small business owners or entrepreneurs and counsel with them about what is required for a successful business. They may recommend that the person enroll in the college's Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning (REAL) program. That course gives them the experience of writing business plans, researching markets for their products or services, and other knowledge that is essential for business success. A director may instead suggest attending a variety of SBC seminars for those clients in need of updated and current information, along with counseling sessions.

"Whichever they require, it is our duty to serve their needs objectively to help them succeed," Fey said.

The directors will continue to counsel clients even after the business is set up, whenever they have questions about their business. All this is provided free of charge.

In addition to counseling with clients, the Small Business Center provides other services, such as hosting seminars covering topics of interest to current or would-be small business owners. In fiscal 2010-11, 99 seminars were held, attracting 1,191 participants. Of these, 370 were already small business owners and 231 were starting businesses.

Those attending seminars are encouraged to bring and exchange business cards to create business community networks. In follow-up surveys, 97 percent of those attending SBC seminars said they were very good or excellent. Among those is Caren Stuart, owner of Convoluted Notions, in Sanford, who creates and sells her own hand-made jewelry and other items.

"I'd always made crafty things for gifts as friends and decided I would like to start a business doing this," Stuart said. "I went to several Small Business Center seminars and had my business up and running in 2005. Since then, as a small business person, I've continued to attend SBC seminars and I've been delighted with their wide variety. If you want a seminar on a specific topic, they will work hard to make it happen."

The Small Business Center in the three counties is now involved in a major expansion of its outreach to small businesses and entrepreneurs with everything from having 'boots on the ground' - going out into the community to meet business owners at their businesses - to establishing a Small Business Resource Center at the college's Lee Campus Library as well as online.

The library's web site, www.cccc.edu/library/resources, offers a Small Business Center library of eBooks and eAudio books, available to anyone online. It will soon also be accessible from the Small Business Center's web sites.

Bob Joyce, president of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, has seen close-up the impact of the college's Small Business Center and REAL programs.

"They have allowed many central North Carolina residents to pursue their dreams of owning a business, to become full-fledged business operations in our community," he said. "These businesses employ citizens and enable them to provide for their families. Fostering and supporting that risk-taking spirit is essential to our economic future."

For more information about the CCCC Small Business Center, contact: Lee County - (919) 774-6442 or www.leesbc.com; Harnett County - (910) 892-2884 or www.harnettsbc.com; and Chatham County - (919) 545-8013 or www.chathamsbc.com.

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