As the Alexandria Small Business Development Center enters its 24th year of serving the community’s small businesses, it’s perhaps a good time to describe the center’s role and free resources for those not familiar with them.
The SBDC works alongside the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership and Visit Alexandria to support and strengthen the small businesses that comprise about 90 percent of Alexandria’s total businesses.
The center helps businesses starting up or moving to Alexandria to make the right connections, guiding them through startup and permitting steps or helping them solve problems that arise.
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 source is among the reasons they choose to stay and grow their business in Alexandria.
Few communities have such a hands-on, free resource for businesses that is an integral part of the economic development and business community. The center also works to enhance communication and understanding between city staff and businesses, among business groups and among businesses themselves.
Over the two decades, the center has answered many thousands of inquiries about a broad range of business matters. It has provided more than 27,000 hours of objective feedback and assistance to several thousand individuals, both existing business owners and startups. It has also helped individuals obtain more than $80 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 ahead, 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 challenges, SBDC client businesses’ longevity far exceed national small business statistics.
The center is continually adding resources and contacts to meet shifting demands on businesses. It is also responsive to changing times and community priorities. As an example, the center is now focusing attention on those businesses in parts of Alexandria where redevelopment is planned or in process.
Redevelopment can pose both opportunities and challenges for existing businesses. Incoming new residents and businesses are likely to spend more but demand higher quality and better service. Current businesses can maintain their distinct character but might need to make adjustments and enhance their appearance, products, services and the customer experience. They also must improve operations to be able to afford the increased lease rates likely with redevelopment.
The staff and board of directors of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center have been honored by the opportunity to engage with Alexandria businesses for 23 years. We value the support from and collaborative partnerships with city government and our economic development partners.
Alexandria is a tight-knit and resourceful business community that is better because of the vitality of its small businesses.
The writer is executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.