Chamber, DFA help area businesses

Published 9:50 am Saturday, January 16, 2010

FRANKLIN—Businesses in downtown Franklin and in the region are making preparations to survive and move forward without International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill, thanks to efforts by the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Franklin Association.

“It’s going to be a different year,” Teresa Beale, executive director of the Chamber, said Friday. “We’re really going to have to ‘think outside of the box.’”

As part of that thinking, Beale said the Chamber is looking to develop a Web site and possibly also a presence on the social networking site Facebook to promote businesses in the community and inform the public about what those businesses are doing.

“It would be a way to promote our existing businesses better,” Beale said. “It would also be a place for local folks to go to make sure they know about all of the businesses here. We’ve really got to make sure that we all shop at home, and not just with retail but also with every type of business that we have.”

She added, “We need to support each other. We need to keep our dollars in our community, working for our community.”

The Chamber is also looking for grants to give local businesses access to a series of books online, or e-books, available through the Virginia Small Business Development Center that Beale said could help them run their businesses better.

“It’s hard for small businesses to go to a seminar, working 10 to 12 hours a day,” Beale said. “This is something that would be available that they could look at online. The e-books would be on different topics.”

Also planned is another “Coffee and Concerns” event similar to the one the Chamber held in December that Beale said was attended by about 20 people.

“We’re inviting not just Chamber members, but the whole business community to come and sit down with us, talk about the situation and say how it’s affecting them,” Beale said. “We want to try to do this once a month, to get together and see what people are experiencing and what we can help them with.”

Meanwhile, DFA President Victor Story said Friday that the Virginia Main Street Program — which is operated through the state Department of Housing and Community Development — will be holding Small Town Merchant Program (STMP) seminars next week at the Franklin Business Incubator.

Beale said the seminars are open to all area businesses and will be held from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Tuesday, and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday.

“We hope people will take advantage of it,” Beale said. “We’ve got a lot of tools coming down the road that hopefully (local businesses) will participate in.”

STMP specialists will also be conducting nine one-on-one visits with downtown businesses, mainly retail and restaurants, to offer advice on subjects such as marketing.

Asked for a general assessment of the current mood of area businesses, Beale agreed it was guarded yet optimistic.

“I think people are ready to move through it,” Beale said of the impending mill closure. “They know it’s not going to be easy, but I haven’t heard anybody say that they are giving up.”

She added, “One thing that (the mill closure) has done, if there is a good spot to it, is it has made (businesses) more engaged with each other and made them more aware of what everybody else is feeling, thinking and doing. I think it will bring people closer together.”

Story concurred.

“People feel like there might be a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “We’re going to survive; it’s just going to be tough.”