Hampton Roads SBDC celebrates 25 years

Published 8:09 pm Monday, September 7, 2015

By Jim Carroll

What do WalMart, Sears, Nike, Apple, Microsoft, Ford, Dodge and a whole host of other national and international businesses have in common with each other? They all started as small businesses.

Their founders or, in some cases, follow-on leaders had a vision and then set about to realize this vision with passionate hard work coupled with, sometimes, a bit of luck and persistence which enabled them to make their visions real.


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Sometimes scoffed at and derided as “mom and pops,” small businesses are the heart of the American economy. They represent 99 percent of all employers, create six out of 10 new jobs and are responsible for employing more than 50 percent of the labor force.

But, more important than that, small business owners take the risks necessary for them to provide the goods and services that contribute to the quality of life we enjoy.

In 1975, discussions were undertaken to determine if there was a way that small business owners could receive training and counseling to help them operate their small businesses. Until then, knowledge of small business procedures came primarily from the “college of hard knocks.” From these discussions came the establishment of the University Business Development Center concept.

This model was started in Georgia and California, and the concept was validated. In 1990, Virginia was added to the now national Small Business Development Center Network. Today, the Virginia SBDC Network is managed by George Mason University with 29 SBDC offices throughout the commonwealth providing counseling, training and other services to small business owners.

Since its inception 25 years ago, the Center has provided assistance to more than 11,000 prospective or existing small business owners and helped create or save more than 8,700 jobs and contribute more than $383 million in economic impact to the region.

The Hampton Roads SBDC is unique in several ways. The center was the first economic development organization serving the Hampton Roads region and the Eastern Shore of Virginia, relying on a collection of offices in Melfa, Williamsburg, Hampton, Norfolk and Suffolk. Additionally, a monthly circuit ride is conducted to Gloucester, Franklin and Smithfield.

The Center works with the Launch Pad in Williamsburg, the newly recreated small business incubator, as well as the Franklin Business Incubator and HATCH Norfolk.

The center is hosted by the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, unlike most of its sister centers, which are university- or community college-based.

Finally, out of the myriad of organizations that provide assistance in one form or another to small business owners, the SBDC network is the only organization that receives official accreditation from the Association of Small Business Development Centers every five years.

Funding support for the center comes from several sources. The U.S. Small Business Administration provides half the funds to operate the center, while localities, banks, chambers of commerce and other entities support the center with both cash and in-kind contributions.

The Hampton Roads SBDC has distinguished itself as a leader in delivering creative and innovative programs to help grow the region’s economy. Included in these are its Daycare and Early Education Providers program, the Hampton Roads Retail Academy, the Southeastern Virginia Business Development Contracting Institute and the PROPEL mentoring program.

I have served with the center for 18 years. The relationships we have established with and the cooperation we receive from our local economic development departments, chambers of commerce, financial institutions and others are the key to our success.

Each of us recognizes the critical importance of small business to the region’s economy. We cooperate and work well together in order to maximize the return on the investment being made to the SBDC. We are justifiably proud of our accomplishments but, more importantly, are looking to the future to develop the tools necessary to keep the region’s small businesses profitable, successful and moving forward in this ever-changing economy.

Jim Carroll is the vice president for small business for the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and the executive director for the Small Business Development Center of Hampton Roads Inc. For more information, visit the Center’s websites, www.hrsbdc.org and www.hrsmallbizloans.com.