Anniversaries are great mileposts for reflecting on accomplishments, and Dec. 17 will mark 25 years since the founding of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.
Celebrating the center’s role and achievements during the past quarter century, such as providing no-cost resources to local businesses, also serves to inform residents who perhaps are not familiar with the SBDC.
The SBDC aligns with the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, Visit Alexandria and the City of Alexandria to strengthen and promote the small businesses that comprise about 90% of Alexandria’s economy.
For businesses already in operation, the SBDC has specialized resources in areas where owners might lack in-house expertise. The center has nothing to sell them and is focused only on what’s in their best interests. Past SBDC users note that having a free goto source for objective feedback and information is a distinct advantage and an incentive to grow their business in Alexandria.
The center also helps businesses launching in or moving to Alexandria to make the right connections, guides them through startup, permitting and funding steps and helps them solve problems that arise.
The past 21 months have been stressful, and the SBDC joined with its economic development partners, city government and business organizations to keep owners updated on pandemic health guidance and assistance efforts.
Businesses that navigated pandemic challenges are better positioned in many ways from the painstaking planning and innovative approaches of their owners. The SBDC played a supportive role, just as, over the years, it helped owners weather storms – literally and figuratively. Its staff also has helped owners to connect with multimillion-dollar contracts. The SBDC’s impact is varied and broad-based.
During the last 25 years, the center has answered many thousands of inquiries about a broad range of business matters. It’s provided about 30,000 hours of objective feedback and assistance to several thousand individuals, both existing business owners and startups, resulting in increased jobs and sales. It has also helped individuals obtain more than $96 million in loans, primarily from Alexandria bankers.
Few communities have hands-on small business resources integral to the economic development and business community that are also interactive with local government. The SBDC additionally works to improve communication and understanding between city staff and businesses, among business groups and among businesses themselves.
Alexandria SBDC is supporting the city’s initiatives for diversity, equity and inclusion through outreach to the Hispanic and African American business communities. These efforts are in their early stages but gaining momentum.
Businesses working with the center from their earliest stages are typically better organized and prepared for the requirements ahead. They launch with better connections and more viable operations. With the center’s proactive guidance and ready availability to help owners with challenges, the longevity of businesses using SBDC resources far surpasses the average small business nationally.
The staff and board of directors of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center are grateful for the 25 years of engagement in the Alexandria business community. We value the productive partnerships with city government and our economic development partners. This is a happy anniversary!
The writer is executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.