Program aims to help small businesses

Published 10:32 pm Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It’s a tough time to be a small business owner.

The poor economy is making many of the city’s retail stores, restaurants and other businesses feel a gut-sucking tightening of the belt.

But there are people who want to help.

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On Thursday, from 8 to 10 a.m., the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Development Center of Hampton Roads and the Suffolk Department of Economic Development will present the Small Town and Merchant Program.

“It’s a very challenging environment for retailers today,” said James Carroll, director of the Small Business Development Center. Carroll added that small businesses account for about 72 percent of the local economy and add needed diversity for cities.

“Small businesses add a unique flavor. You have a different experience than can be had with independent retail. If they go weak and go by the wayside, it’s very hard to replace them,” he said.

The program is specifically geared toward helping small business owners handle the hurdles they face. Casey Willson, a Maryland retail consultant with more than 35 years in the business, will lead the program.

“(Willson) has started and sold several successful small retail businesses in his career,” Carroll said. “He’s noticed things that make a business successful and things that make a business fail. He’ll help local businesses step back and objectively analyze their operation and find out what can be made better.”

The program will take place at the Hilton Garden Inn. The cost is $10.

Following the event, three retailers will have the opportunity for more one-on-one help, because Willson will make individual visits to select businesses.

“It’ll be a hands-on opportunity to look at the operation,” Carroll said.

For more information about Thursday’s event or to register for the program, call Jessica Kotula at 865-3128.