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Small business a big priority
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Now that the state has added Effingham County to its list of entrepreneur friendly communities, the Chamber of Commerce is ready to dive into its plans to help local small businesses.

“This week was a milestone,” Chamber Executive Director Ken Stoner told Effingham Industrial Development Authority members Thursday.

The entrepreneur friendly task force worked for eight months and discovered some interesting facts along the way, Stoner said.

“Generally, people are enthusiastic about their enterprises and they are optimistic about their opportunities here,” he said.

The task force also discovered that most Effingham jobs are created in “twos and threes,” he said, by these firms. As an example, he pointed to Spatial Engineering, a Rincon firm that started with two principals and now has 15 employees.

“I think they’ll keep growing,” Stoner said.

Task force research showed that of the business owners in Effingham, 12 percent had post-graduate degrees and another 30 percent were college graduates.

They also broke the market down into two segments, startups and more established businesses.

“Each has different needs,” Stoner said. “With startups and prospective businesses, they need practical information. They like to get information from people who have been there and done that.”

The chamber will put together a small business council and a small business resource center. The center will be able to provide demographic information and help new business owners write business plans.

“It can give you detailed information, like traffic counts and competition in an area,” Stoner said.

The Chamber also will establish a mentoring program with business owners who have been successful in related fields.

It also has plans for a small business academy, a six-week course in conjunction with local colleges and universities, and put its Web site to use for those courses.

“They will be handy, day-to-day topics,” Stoner said.

A small business summit also will be held monthly and will be made up of noncompeting businesses.

With the entrepreneur friendly designation, the state has a maximum of $25,000 in grants available that must have a 50 percent match from either money or in-kind contributions to the program. To be eligible, projects must show a commitment to entrepreneur and small business growth.

Also, as part of the state’s “phase 2” of an entrepreneur friendly initiative, state economic development officials will help set up a strategic planning session within the next month to establish goals and benchmarks.

IDA Chief Executive Officer John Henry said he would like to see GIS capability involved and match the mapping with market graphics.

“The potential for that GIS application is unlimited,” he said. “We’re doing things technologically the state is not doing yet.”

Stoner said the state’s economic development teams that oversee the entrepreneur friendly designations praised Effingham.

“There was a sense of community they have not seen anywhere and a sense of family,” he said.

Screven County received its entrepreneur friendly designation Thursday, joining Effingham and Bryan counties. Bulloch and Chatham counties are in the process of earning their designations.