Farewell, but not forgotten

Farewell, but not forgotten

To the editor: 

Alexandria’s Small Business Development Center has closed, and its services moved to George Mason University, a minimum of a half hour drive into Fairfax County. This closing is understandable given the departure of its founder, Bill Reagan, and the death of his long-time assistant Gloria Flanagan, who were essential to its success. 

According to the Alexandria Times article, the decision to close the SBDC was largely made by the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership without any public notice, input or chance to weigh in. As far as I know – and I checked with a couple – no business associations were made aware prior to the closing. Yet, it wasn’t inevitable and it may be a real loss for Alexandria’s small businesses. 

For it to just disappear – and some of its functions taken over by AEDP, a public-private partnership with no transparency – should be concerning to us all. I used the SBDC 20 years ago to help my business and took their “Next Level Business Development” class, which was a great help to me starting out. 

Small businesses are the backbone of every community. They give our city its distinctive flavor, from restaurants to shops that you will find nowhere else. You could see the business plan of a success story like Cheesetique in Del Ray, a website company, or whatever you were looking for. The SBDC was always friendly and welcoming. 

Therefore, I hope there is a full report called for by the City Council on how this change transpired and how AEDP plans to fill the gap. It has always seemed to me as an outside observer that the SBDC and AEDP served different purposes; AEDP is focused on growth, the amount of office vacancy and larger development projects like Virginia Tech and Amazon, while SBDC helped smaller scale businesses. 

Now AEDP is going to do both. How does that change their mission and function? 

I congratulate them on the hire of Cristina Amoruso, their new small business director, and look forward to the celebration of her arrival and of small businesses touted in her announcement. But I also know that the director of AEDP, Stephanie Landrum, is a proponent of the proposed Business Improvement Districts (see our FOIAs at nobid.org) which I think will hurt small businesses – especially new ones looking to locate in Alexandria – because of the proposed tax increase. 

I am also involved in creating a new business organization that will be inclusive, diverse and bring people together across the political and economic divide so we can find common ground which is not always based on competition, but based on cooperation. 

How will it fit in and be welcomed into the mix? I assume we will want to work with AEDP, the Mason Small Business Center and other existing business associations. But one of our principles will be transparency, which is the only way to build trust between organizations – and have a fair and level playing field. 

Knowing what happened to make these changes, and what the plan for the future of small business from AEDP and City Council will be a good place to start to build that trust. 

-Boyd Walker, Alexandria