2007-11-22 / Front Page

Lincoln County is 'Entrepreneur Friendly' community

Lincoln County was named one of the state's newest "Entrepreneur Friendly" communities by the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) during a special ceremony held Tuesday, November 13. Pictured are: (l-r) Sherry McKellar, Lincoln County Development Authority; Brandie Reese, Lincolnton Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce; Ernie Doss, Lincoln County Department of Public Safety; Lincoln County Commission Chairman Walker Norman; Adela Kelley, regional GDEcD representative; Alana Burke, Lincoln County Development Authority; Debra McKenzie, Small Business Development Center; and Nancy Hohlwein, chamber president. Lincoln County was named one of the state's newest "Entrepreneur Friendly" communities by the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) during a special ceremony held Tuesday, November 13. Pictured are: (l-r) Sherry McKellar, Lincoln County Development Authority; Brandie Reese, Lincolnton Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce; Ernie Doss, Lincoln County Department of Public Safety; Lincoln County Commission Chairman Walker Norman; Adela Kelley, regional GDEcD representative; Alana Burke, Lincoln County Development Authority; Debra McKenzie, Small Business Development Center; and Nancy Hohlwein, chamber president. Lincoln County was recently named one of the state's newest "Entrepreneur Friendly" communities by the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD).

The announcement was made Tuesday, November 13, during a special ceremony held in the conference room at the Lincoln County Planning and Zoning Department.

The county's latest step toward growing jobs through expansion as well as attracting new businesses was made possible by the Lincolnton-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln County Development Authority, with the assistance of Adela Kelley, a regional GDEcD representative.

The Entrepreneur Friendly designation indicates that the community has worked to develop an environment that is welcoming to small business and entrepreneurs. Ninety-six of the county's 371 companies are small businesses, with fewer than 20 employees.

Earlier on Tuesday, Lincoln County's entrepreneur development team gathered at The Lincoln Center to make a presentation to GDEcD staff, along with representatives of Senator Johnny Isakson's office, Senator Saxby Chambliss' office, UGA's Small Business Development Center, the OneGeorgia Authority, the United States Department of Agriculture, and CSRA Business Lending.

The presentation featured the results of the team's analysis of the county's entrepreneurial and small business environment in addition to the strategies developed by the group to help foster the growth of this critical segment of the economy.

The development team is comprised of Guil Mattison, Farmers & Merchants Bank; Nancy Blount and Domonica Lee, Lincoln County Family Connection; Glenn Clements, county enforcement officer; Kenneth Reed, Reed Propane & Gas.

Clay Turner, Turner Realty; Chris Heitmann, H&H Industrial Maintenance, Inc.; Ellen Butler, LCHS counselor; Jason Rickerson, JPR Construction; Brandie Reese, chamber of commerce; Sherry McKellar, development authority.

Joann Collins, business co-op teacher at LCHS; Janet Dukes, high school teacher; Marcene Powell, CPA; Britt Hammond, county attorney; Ginger Dawkins, City of Lincolnton; and Jim Aycock, the Georgia Power Company.

As part of the team's community assessment, the group identified a variety of local resources that help promote an entrepreneurial friendly climate in the county. These included the chamber of commerce, the CSRA Regional Development Center, Augusta Technical College's entrepreneurship program, Clark's Hill Lake, Elijah Clark State Park, Youth Leadership Lincoln, the county health and recreation departments, the business park, and high school programs such as "School to Work," the beta club, and the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) chapter.

The development team also reported on interviews conducted with a sampling of local entrepreneurs. Some of the group's findings appear below:

.. Seventy-seven of the businesses surveyed were self-established; 18 percent were purchased; and five percent, inherited.

.. The skills most lacking in the local work force are sales/marketing and computer tech skills.

.. The biggest challenges for entrepreneurs are finding skilled employees, locating business space, financing, and dealing with local and state regulations.

.. Forty-two percent of those interviewed reported that the most valuable support that could be offered to a new business would be a "buy local" program.

.. The percentages of sales come from the following markets: regional, 48 percent; county, 30 percent; state, 13 percent; and national, nine percent.

.. Forty-three percent of the entrepreneurs interviewed indicated that they financed their business with personal savings; 37 percent relied on local banks.

.. When asked to whom they would refer an individual wishing to start a small business in Lincoln County, 51 percent said the chamber of commerce; 21 percent, the bank; eight percent, the Small Business Development Center; eight percent, a mentor; eight percent, another business; and four percent, other.

.. The top two obstacles to the future success of a business were identified as competition and the lack of a skilled workforce.

.. When asked to rate the community as a place to start and operate a business, 45 percent of those interviewed gave it a "good" rating; 32 percent, a fair rating; 14 percent, excellent; and nine percent, poor.

Following the presentation and lunch at The Lincoln Center, the GDEcD staff, along with the other state and federal members of the review team, evaluated the county's entrepreneurial community assessment to determine whether the requirements for the Entrepreneur Friendly designation had been met.

The results of their deliberations were then announced later that after- noon by Adela Kelley of the GDEcD.

According to Kelley, the review team was impressed with the county's presentation, calling it "an excellent presentation, exceptionally well prepared."

The team was also impressed with the amount of support the community receives from the educational system. "I was pleased to see the school superintendent at the presentation - normally, we don't get that support from the educational sector," said Kelley.

The GDEcD regional representative went on to note that the team was likewise excited about the attendance at the meeting. "This means the leadership and the community support what you're doing," she said. "We saw a lot of enthusiasm and optimism."

In other comments, Kelley indicated that the starter kit for new businesses, prepared by the development team, was one of the best she has seen.

As a whole, the review team identified several approaches the community could take to promote entrepreneurship. Among these were:

.. Recruit local mentors to assist small businesses.

.. Create a small business button on the chamber of commerce's new website.

.. Continue to interview local business owners.

.. Use The Lincoln Journal to implement a buy local program and spotlight local businesses.

At the conclusion of her presentation, Kelley announced that Lincoln County was the 66th community in the state to be named Entrepreneur Friendly by the GDEcD.

After congratulating those present, the GDEcD representative said, "We appreciate all of your hard work. You have made our job a breeze. You are definitely one of the easiest communities I've ever worked with."

As an Entrepreneur Friendly community, the county's development team is required to hold a strategic planning session within the next 30 days. The group will then have to schedule quarterly "best practices" meetings.

In addition, qualified entrepreneurs and small business owners in Lincoln County are now eligible for customized market data, such as demographic and business information, to help give them a competitive edge.

As for the county, it is eligible for up to $25,000 in Entrepreneur- Friendly Implementation Fund (EFIF) grant monies to help it implement specific, long-term programs that support its entrepreneurs and small businesses. The grants are 50-50 matches.

According to Alana Burke, executive director of the Lincoln Count Development Authority, "The Entrepreneur Friendly designation process has been informative for both the chamber and the development authority, giving us ideas about how we can better serve our existing businesses as well as help those wishing to start a small business here. Using the information we gained from the interviews with entrepreneurs, we plan to develop a resource guide that will assist small business owners as they grow their businesses in Lincoln County.

"Our small businesses have a great impact on our local economy, and this designation will help give us a competitive edge as we all work to improve the quality of life for all of our citizens," Burke concluded.

The development team's goal is to create 21 new jobs within the next two years.

"Small businesses are the backbone of Georgia communities," stated Heidi Green, chairman of the Georgia Entrepreneur and Small Business Coordinating Network and the GDEcD's deputy commissioner for global commerce. "By helping entrepreneurs and small businesses grow, we help Georgia grow. We applaud Lincoln County for incorporating small businesses into its strategic plan for growth."

The Georgia Department of Economic Development is the state's sales and marketing arm and the lead agency for attracting new business investments. As such, it encourages the expansion of existing industry and small businesses, locates new markets for Georgia products, attracts tourists to the state, and promotes the state as a location for film, video, and music projects. The agency is also involved in planning and mobilizing state resources for economic development.

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