I’ve had a long career in the manufacturing industry. In the late 1970s, I was transferred to a rural community, a new experience for me. I’d never given a lot of thought to rural economic development before, but suddenly I saw the dynamic that created pockets of poverty. There was a great need for educational opportunities and local jobs. I felt that people, particularly poor people without transportation, should not have to travel a great distance to find employment.
Attracting industry to an area is one way to impact small local economies, but there’s another answer as well. Small business development creates jobs in rural areas and anywhere else there is a need to eliminate pockets of poverty. Nearly 60 percent of people employed in the United States are employed by small businesses. Helping to grow this vast economic segment is going to play an enormous role in turning around, not only local economies, but the national economy, as well.
When I began to use my business experience to help people start small businesses, I felt an immense sense of gratification. Helping someone take an idea and turn it into a business venture is exciting and fulfilling work. My current role as area manager for the Charleston Area Small Business Development Center has allowed me to help thousands of entrepreneurs pursue their dreams of financial success. The SC SBDC’s statewide network supports economic development by helping to start and grow small businesses in rural and urban communities. Statewide, the SC Small Business Development Centers has helped create more than 1,114 jobs and start 116 businesses in 2011 alone.
There are twenty odd organizations that support entrepreneurs in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. There was a time when numerous business seminars were held on the same day. Our area needed a managed approached. I got together with other leaders and developed a plan to organize our efforts. We established a website where people can view a calendar of events, and meet on a regular basis to insure that we are providing the best possible service to entrepreneurs. That meant less duplication of services. The Charleston Small Business Network has been going for five years now. Our unified approach has been recognized by Chuck Bundy, the SC Department of Commerce’s Small Business Ombudsman. I’ve been asked to help implement this type of organization in other parts of the state.
It is important that people who have found success share their knowledge with others. I particularly enjoy working with students. Mentoring college students about entrepreneurship is a natural fit with my role at the SC SBDC. Our work with college students has helped them easily transition from the academic world to the business world. It’s a great feeling to help these future entrepreneurs launch careers, not just find jobs.
We have a long road ahead on the economic front. Small business development and young entrepreneurs are going to be key in making positive change. I’m thankful to be able to contribute to that improvement. I encourage everyone who has knowledge or abilities in business to step up and participate in some way. We’re all in this together.
Tom Lauria is the area manager for the North Charleston Area Small Business Development Center in South Carolina, where he assists both startups and existing companies in their pursuit of financial success.