As I get ready to retire from the Alexandria Small Business Development Center at the end of January, thoughts and sentiments are rummaging through my mind. It’s been so heartening to receive congratulations and descriptions of the ways the SBDC has made a difference.
There’s a great sense of accomplishment because small businesses are now considered more central to Alexandria’s economy than they were 25 years ago. More resources and processes have become focused on their unique needs and circumstances.
I’m reflecting on the SBDC’s role helping small business owners answer questions and solve challenges that hinder their success and helping emerging entrepreneurs get started more efficiently and effectively. Capital is crucial, and the SBDC’s financial analyst has helped entrepreneurs raise more than $96 million in funding from local lenders.
I’m also reflecting on the SBDC’s distinctive approach. Because small business owners are often overwhelmed by challenges beyond their expertise, the SBDC’s information and guidance is delivered promptly and packaged to be readily usable. SBDC staff employ a bit of psychology in their consulting roles. Few business resources are so accessible and thorough, and that unique role and approach must continue uninterrupted.
I’m mindful that the nature of business evolves, and the SBDC has consistently adapted to changing trends and approaches. We’ve regularly enlisted specialized consultants to meet new developments and situations and just recently added consulting expertise to serve technology and innovation sector businesses.
Unforeseen circumstances can be devastating, but the SBDC staff always rose to the occasion to provide individualized assistance to businesses during catastrophic occurrences such as the 2008 economic downturn, 9/11, Hurricane Isabel and COVID-19.
Despite our conscientious efforts, not all entrepreneurs find the SBDC or other resources that can help them make consequential decisions or tap into opportunities. Some of them are not online and might not always follow customary business practices. The SBDC has initiated outreach efforts into the Hispanic and African American business communities with specialized consultants who relate to them, develop trust and then coach them.
The breadth of issues and complexity of tailoring approaches to different audiences is demanding, but the devoted SBDC staff and specialized consultants continually rise to these challenges.
I’m reflecting on productive partnerships. The SBDC’s efforts on behalf of small businesses were supported and strengthened by community leadership, city staff, economic development partners and business groups throughout the city. The SBDC facilitated communication and collaboration among business organizations and helped improve relationships between city government and businesses.
The past two years of the pandemic have been stressful for everyone, but we can all take pride in how adaptive and innovative businesses, governments, organizations and individuals have been, and what that indicates about our capacity to handle future challenges.
I am grateful for my 25 exciting years with Alexandria SBDC and the friendships with business community, nonprofit and city government leaders. I’m most heartened by the interactions with the courageous and dedicated entrepreneurs who shape this community and never cease to amaze me.
My heart is full, and I wish everyone the very best!
The writer is executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.