By Bill Reagan
Twenty years ago on December 17, the Alexandria Small Business Development Center opened its doors to support and strengthen the small businesses that are central to Alexandria’s economy and character.
Over the next two decades, the center has answered many thousands of inquiries about a broad range of business matters. It has provided more than 25,000 hours of objective feedback and assistance to several thousand individuals, both existing business owners and startups. It has also helped individuals obtain more than $71 million in loans, primarily from Alexandria bankers.
The center provides growth and operational advice to existing small business owners, small nonprofits and associations and those interested in starting such organizations. Existing businesses are aided with common problems or to improve operations and marketing. The center also helps businesses make connections to the organizations, professionals and resources that can make a real difference.
Those who work with the center from the earliest phase of their startup are typically better organized and prepared for the requirements of running a business, and they launch with better connections and more viable and agile operations. With the center’s proactive guidance and ready availability to help owners with problems, the SBDC’s client longevity rates far surpass national failure statistics.
There are many business fundamentals that are constant — market research, planning, site selection, cash management, customer service and forecasting, for example. The way some of them is achieved has changed a bit over the years.
Social and mobile media have vastly changed marketing, customer relations and entire business strategies. Online commerce is now an essential element of any business, as is creating a distinct customer experience.
The SBDC has guidance in all these business areas that might be familiar to some but not to others. We also offer ready access to experts on social, local and mobile marketing, human resources, government contracting, nonprofit management and retail operations. The center’s extensive website — www.alexandriasbdc.org — has resources on many timely business issues.
Since the center is a free resource for Alexandria businesses, clients have access to an experienced staff that has nothing to sell them and is focused entirely on their best interests. Even more important than our highly regarded programs and services, clients say that the center’s candid and objective feedback is what distinguishes us from other programs.
The center is continually adding resources and contacts to meet shifting demands on businesses. It is also responsive to changing times and community priorities. For 2017, the SBDC is partnering with the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership on retail outreach to enhance the vitality of the city’s shopping districts. The center is also connecting with additional business specialists to guide Alexandria entrepreneurs through pressing business circumstances.
The staff and board of directors of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center are honored to have had the opportunity to serve Alexandria businesses for 20 years. We value the support from and collaborative partnerships with city government and our economic development partners. Alexandria is truly a closely knit business community.
We wish you a very happy holiday season and prosperous New Year!
The writer is the executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.