Resources available for small businesses hurt by mill closure

Published 11:43 am Saturday, May 8, 2010

As chairman of the Small Business Recovery Committee I would like to update you on what the committee has accomplished and what we will be looking to do in the future.

What is taking place in Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight counties is unprecedented in my experience. Even the closure of the Ford Motor Co. plant in Norfolk cannot compare to the loss of the International Paper plant.

Fortunately, I have a most knowledgeable and dedicated group of individuals on the committee who are putting forth every effort to work through this hardship. They include a representative from U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes’ office, the executive director and past president of the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce, the president of the Isle of Wight-Smithfield-Windsor Chamber of Commerce, the manager of the Downtown Franklin Association, representatives from the economic development departments from Isle of Wight and Franklin, and the Franklin Business Incubator and a member of the Franklin City Council.

This group of professional business and government representatives meets once a month or more to map out, coordinate and execute a strategy to move forward.

At the outset, the committee identified two key areas of importance that would be needed to assist the small-business community: funding to support infrastructure to meet the anticipated demand and access to quality business information. To date the committee has been able to secure a $23,000 grant from Verizon Corp. to be used to support the Verizon Business Information Library located on the Small Business Development Center of Hampton Roads website,, and to conduct a variety of business training courses throughout the year.

Additionally, a request for a $100,000 grant has been submitted to the U.S. Small Business Administration under the Portability Grant Program, and the committee is in the process of submitting a $115,000 grant request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program. Other requests, both in the government and commercial sector, are being evaluated and applications are being submitted. The plan is to utilize these funds to provide a variety of services and counseling to the region’s small-business community.

Regarding access to vital information, the committee has established the aforementioned Verizon Business Information Library on the SBDC website. This is designed to serve as a “one-stop” information resource for both existing and prospective small-business owners. This service goes hand-in-hand with the existing Small Business University, which provides a variety of courses in money, management and marketing and the free, confidential one-on-one counseling the SBDC provides.

In addition to this, the committee has arranged for a group of MBA and PhD students from Old Dominion University’s School of Business and Public Policy to donate pro-bono counseling services in their areas of expertise to the small-business community. Their work will be supervised by the director of the SBDC and will consist primarily of research and business strategy analysis. As with the counseling services provided by the SBDC, all work performed by the students is strictly confidential and all students will execute a non-disclosure agreement prior to actually performing any work.

As I stated at the beginning of this column, the challenges facing the area’s small-business community are unprecedented. With the assistance of the Small Business Recovery Committee and the resources that are both already in place and additional resources that are being requested, we are working through this tumultuous period and helping as many businesses as we can.