B U S I N E S S + C U LT U R E 11 VIEWPOINT Helping Drive the Success of Small Businesses Allan Adams State Director, Small Business Development Center University of Georgia Small businesses make up an important part of Georgia’s economy, including the economies of every rural community in our state. Not only do these firms provide goods and services that their customers need, but they provide full and part-time employment opportunities that accommodate the needs of all sectors of the workforce. In addition, small business owners contribute tremendously to a community’s quality of life by participating in civic clubs and nonprofit organizations, sponsoring a wide variety of youth and cultural activities, and serving on numerous boards, commissions, and elected bodies. Although larger firms play a significant role within the economy, there are always opportunities for small firms to profit, as well as improve the lives of everyone they touch. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, Georgia has approximately one million small businesses (including many sole proprietorships that only employ the owner). Small firms employ 1.6 million Georgians, more than 43 percent of the private, non-governmental workforce. The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that rural counties in Georgia host more than 31,000 small businesses, employing over 250,000 people with a total payroll of $7.8 billion. From retail to service, manufacturing to agriculture, opportunities for local business creation and growth should be an important part of every community’s economic development strategy. Examining the consumer behavior and labor force activity within a trade area, be it one county or multiple counties, can help determine the opportunity to grow locally owned businesses. Many small businesses not only attract customers locally, but from nearby communities and from across the state. With effective internet use and other marketing strategies, small firms can also develop customer bases across the country and internationally. The profits and investments of locally owned firms tend to stay local, helping build a stronger future for the home community. The challenges for business owners can vary, but there are many commonalities. Managing cash flow, attracting new customers, identifying suppliers, finding employees and accessing expansion capital are all issues that business owners routinely face. The University of Georgia created the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) program to provide a locally based educational program to help business owners and prospective entrepreneurs acquire the information and assistance they need to help make better business decisions and improve their chances for success. Partnering with Valdosta State University, the UGA SBDC helps serve small businesses in South Georgia by providing one-on- one, confidential business consulting to individuals, as well as offering open enrollment training programs in cooperation with sponsors such as Guardian Bank. Impact studies show that businesses receiving assistance from the SBDC perform better than the average Georgia business. The most recent impact study shows that SBDC clients enjoyed an annual sales increase of 12 percent compared to 5.5 percent for other firms. SBDC clients also experienced employment growth of 15.5 percent compared to 2.9 percent for the average Georgia business. Statewide, SBDC clients launched more than 1,700 new businesses and created more than 12,000 jobs over the past five years. Small business is important to Georgia’s economy and important to rural communities in our state. Business involves risk and the competitive environment is strong and constantly changing. The rewards of fulfilling a successful business dream can be both financially and emotionally rewarding. The UGA Small Business Development Center is a resource available to assist individuals looking to maximize their chances of success. Contact the UGA SBDC office at Valdosta State University to find out how to receive assistance from an SBDC office nearest you or visit the SBDC website at www. georgiasbdc.org.