Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) around the state say the climate for small businesses is good and the outlook is positive.
At Delta State University, center director Glendscene Williams sees an increase in new ventures that haven’t been in the Delta before. “There’s a trend for thrift shoptype businesses and things like scrap booking,” she said. “There is also an increase in small businesses using mail ordering and the Internet.”
She says that although many customers in the area might not use the Internet, those outside the 12-county Delta area are finding these businesses on the Internet.
Williams and her staff have a lot of outreach efforts and work with other economic development agencies in the area as well as with mayors and boards of supervisors as part of their economic development plan.
Another trend she observes is that business owners are not letting their businesses close in the worst possible way.
“They’re not waiting for that. They research to find out how to work something out with the bank to transition; or they provide a different type of service; or bring in a partner,” she said. “They’re finding ways to not have a big loss. The information age is playing a role in this shift.”
With the collaboration of many agencies and the federal government, she feels the health of small businesses in the area has improved at least by 40% in sustainability compared to what it was in the past.
“A lot more agencies are partnering to help. There’s more support available, and small towns do not want to lose these businesses,” she said. “The small businesses are getting support and their value to the community is recognized more. I definitely have a positive outlook.”
Williams added that the jobs provided by small businesses, though few in number, are meaningful to the economy of small towns. “People are finding that this employment helps and these businesses are going to stay in the community,” she said. “There’s not as much chasing smoke stacks anymore.”
In the Southwest corner of the state, Jeff Waller is director of the 12-county area for Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s SBDC in Natchez. A recent expansion and a reopening by Georgia-Pacific Paper Company in Roxie and Gloster have helped the economy in that area.
Waller says the most obvious growth is in parts of his district with lines of transportation. “That’s so important and it’s working for us,” he said. “Natchez has the Mississippi River and Highways 84 and 61. We have Interstate 55 running through Pike County and Crystal Springs and Highway 49 in Simpson County.”
He’s seeing an influx of potential restaurants, clothing stores and check cashing operations among the businesses inquiring about opening in the area. “We had a lot of evacuees move here and they see opportunities with restaurants,” he said. “Maybe they can cook or they worked in a restaurant.”
Waller also notes that small businesses tend to open and close on a routine basis because they aren’t prepared. “So many people jump into business without knowing how to run a business,” he said. “The biggest hurdle is management. They may know how to do their work but don’t know how to run a business.”
His agency, and all the small business development centers, can help aspiring business owners with counseling and training.
Assistance is also available for existing businesses to grow. “We probably have about a 38% rate of existing businesses come back to talk about expanding,” Waller said. “They want to talk about loans and potential growth; usually they just need a little money to get them over the hump.”
Overall, Waller says the majority of businesses that are up and running for more than two years in his part of the state are doing well.
There’s a lot going on in the seven-county area served by the East Central Community College SBDC, according to director Ronnie Westbrook. Much of it is in the Philadelphia area where he says the Community Development Partnership is extremely progressive.
“We’re seeing some activity, primarily in the Philadelphia area,” he said. “There’s a lot going on there with some retail businesses opening. A lot is centered on the Pearl River Resorts and the tourists they bring to the area. A number of eating locations, independent and franchise are opening, too, because of the growing number of people coming in.”
Westbrook says he is busy with clients wanting to start small businesses.
“I try to impress on them that owning a business is not a 40-hour week and try to give them insight into what to expect as a business owner,” he said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.