The Business Plan with Bill Reagan: A 21-year resource for small businesses

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Bill Reagan
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The Alexandria Small Business Development Center recently passed its 21year milestone serving the community’s small businesses.

The SBDC plays a complementary economic development role to the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership and Visit Alexandria, with its focus on supporting and strengthening the small businesses that comprise about 90 percent of Alexandria’s total businesses.

The center contributes to Alexandria’s image as a business-friendly city by helping businesses starting up or moving to Alexandria to make the right connections, guiding them through startup and permitting steps or solving problems that arise. Few communities have such a hands-on, free resource for businesses that is well connected in the economic development and business community, as well as with city government.

For businesses already in operation, the center has timely and expert resources to help them where they lack in-house expertise. The center has nothing to sell them and is focused only on what is in their best interests. Several owners proclaim that having the SBDC as a free and objective go-to resource is among the reasons they choose to grow their business in Alexandria.

The center works to enhance communication and understanding between city government and businesses, among business groups and among businesses themselves. Alexandria is the rare community where business and economic development organizations work collaboratively with one another and with city government. A business contacting the wrong office is not sent away, but is often re-directed to the correct person to serve their needs.

Over its two-plus decades, the center has answered many thousands of inquiries about a broad range of business matters. It has provided more than 26,000 hours of objective feedback and assistance to several thousand individuals, both existing business owners and those launching startups. It has also helped individuals obtain more than $78 million in loans, primarily from Alexandria bankers.

Those who work with the center from the earliest stage of their business are typically better organized and prepared for the requirements, 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 client businesses’ longevity far exceeds national failure statistics for small businesses.

Social and mobile media have vastly changed marketing, customer relations and entire business strategies. Online commerce is now an essential business element, 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 have ready access to experts on social/local/mobile marketing; human resources; government contracting, nonprofit management and retail operations.

The center is continually adding resources and contacts to meet shifting demands on businesses. It is also responsive to changing times and community priorities.

The staff and board of directors of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center are honored by the opportunity to engage with Alexandria businesses for 21 years. We value the support from and collaborative partnerships with city government and our economic development partners. Alexandria is truly a closely knit and resourceful business community.

The writer is the executive director of Alexandria’s Small Business Development Center.

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