I grew up in a small Arkansas town where my uncle and a friend co-owned a construction company. My parents both worked there – my father as a plasterer and my mother as a bookkeeper.
Later, my uncle and his partner also opened a hardware store and operated it many years before retiring. The store became a social gathering place for the community.
During my high school and college years, I worked for three other local businesses in that same town. I was just happy to have a job and a paycheck at the time and did not realize the businesses’ significance in my community.
Nor did I understand all the challenges the owners faced to stay in business. They were responsible for managing cash flow, marketing, pricing, hiring, complying with government regulations, and using new technology to more efficiently and effectively serve their customers.
If I could go back to the ‘80s, I would ask those business owners one question: Have you talked to the Small Business Development Center?
I joined the organization now known as the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center in 1989. Through offices around the state, our program serves Arkansans who are starting and growing businesses.
I have witnessed tremendous growth and change at ASBTDC, but what remains the same is a commitment to equip small businesses for success. Here are five ways ASBTDC helps businesses grow.
Over the last 10 years, ASBTDC has helped clients obtain nearly $750 million in capital.
Our consultants work one-on-one with current or prospective business owners who are seeking funding. We assist with business plans, budgets, financial projections, and all the documentation required by lenders or other funders.
During the pandemic, our team guided hundreds of businesses through the application process for the Paycheck Protection Program and other federal, state, and private relief funding opportunities, assisting them in securing $57.6 million.
CUSTOMER & MARKET DATA
Businesses use ASBTDC market research to build their customer base, boost sales, and expand to new locations. Access to a wealth of customer and market data means we can provide small businesses with tailored and actionable market intelligence at no cost.
We have the latest reports on the competitive environment, industry trends, forecasts, and technological developments. We can also compare market potential among different geographic areas or focus on one target area.
We work with clients on every aspect of business because they are all interwoven. An entrepreneur may come to ASBTDC for one reason, such as help with a funding proposal, then end up also working with us on exporting or marketing.
Even when a business has a good concept, good product, and a good location, to grow, it also needs consistent systems and processes. We teach business owners about every aspect of owning and running a business and prepare them for the pitfalls.
Some small businesses were well-positioned for the shift from in-person to online sales and marketing brought on by the pandemic. Others, not so much. Helping businesses increase their online presence and saleshas become a priority for us over the last year.
We have online presence specialists who can assist business owners with websites, social media, digital marketing, and e-commerce, and ASBTDC continues to offer webinars and other educational programs about how to connect with customers and generate sales online.
In 2020, we launched two multi-week accelerators for companies looking to grow.
The Smart Growth Accelerator offered through the Arkansas State University ASBTDC targets young businesses in Craighead, Crittenden, and Mississippi counties.
Applications are open for the spring Smart Growth round that starts in April.
The Lab2Launch Accelerator is for early-stage innovation-based Arkansas companies seeking a first SBIR/STTR grant or contract.
The highly competitive Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs award $3.7 billion in seed funding annually. Each accelerator cohort focuses on preparing SBIR/STTR proposals for a specific federal agency.
The current Lab2Launch cohort centers on the National Institutes of Health, and we are accepting applications for a summer USDA cohort.
The ASBTDC is growing as well.
We are welcoming four new institutions to our network in 2021: Arkansas State University Mid-South, Arkansas State University Mountain Home, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Our long-time partnership with higher education is a proven delivery system for ASBTDC’s entrepreneurial and small business services.
March 17 marks the 5th annual SBDC Day, which recognizes the network of nearly 1,000 centers across the country and the thousands of businesses SBDCs serve.
When small businesses succeed, our communities and our nation succeed. Almost half of all private sector employees work for small businesses, and small businesses account for 65 percent of net new job creation in the United States.
What the businesses in my hometown all had in common was their important role in the social and economic fabric of the community. They provided employment opportunities for local residents, generated tax revenues for the city, sponsored school and community events, and provided me and other young people with valuable work experience.
Today, small businesses quietly shape the landscape by their presence and their absence. Vibrant areas bustle with small business activity. Vacant buildings remind us where businesses once were.
Support Arkansas small businesses by shopping local, referring friends and family, and recognizing them for the role they play in your community.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in op-eds are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Arkansas Money & Politics or About You Media Group.