The Business Plan with Bill Reagan: Helping local small businesses for 22 years

The Business Plan with Bill Reagan: Helping local small businesses for 22 years
Bill Reagan, who has served as executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center for the last 25 years, is set to retire on Jan. 31.

The Alexandria Small Business Development Center recently passed the 22-year milestone of supporting the community’s business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.

The SBDC plays a complementary role to the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership and Visit Alexandria in the attraction, retention and expansion of businesses in Alexandria. The SBDC provides hands-on assistance to the small businesses that comprise about 90 percent of Alexandria’s total businesses.

The center contributes to Alexandria’s business-friendliness by coaching businesses that are starting up in or moving to Alexandria by providing the right connections, guiding companies through startup and permitting steps and solving problems that arise. Few communities have such a proactive free resource that is well-connected in the economic development and business community, as well as with city government.

For businesses already in operation, the center provides timely expert consultants to advise them where they lack in-house experience. 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 keep and expand their businesses 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 instead often directed to the correct person to serve their needs.

Over two decades, the center has answered many thousands of inquiries about a broad range of business matters. It provided almost 28,000 hours of unbiased feedback and assistance to several thousand individuals, both existing business owners and startups. It has also helped individuals obtain more than $80 million in loans, primarily from Alexandria banks.

Those who engage with the center from the earliest stage of their business are generally better organized and prepared for the requirements, and they launch with better networks and more viable and agile operations. With the center’s proactive guidance and ready availability to help owners manage problems, the SBDC client businesses’ longevity far surpasses national failure statistics for small businesses.

The SBDC provides specialized guidance in a variety of business areas that might be familiar to some but not to others. These include social and mobile media, podcasting, cyber security and creating a distinct customer experience. The center has access to experts in cash management and financing, social/local/mobile marketing, human resources, state and federal government contracting, nonprofit management and food service and retail operations.

The center is continually adding resources and contacts to meet the 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 have been honored to work with Alexandria businesses for more than 22 years. We value the support from and collaborative partnerships with city government, our economic development partners and business organizations. Alexandria is truly a closely-knit and resourceful business community.

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