SANFORD - Hard economic times can be times of opportunity for small businesses, according to speakers at the “Business Success in Tough Times” seminar held in Sanford Dec. 11.
The event was one of nine pilot seminars presented statewide between Dec. 8 and Dec. 11 by The University of North Carolina System’s Small Business and Technology Development Center and the N.C. Community College System’s Small Business Center Network. Each was a call to action for small business owners to carefully review all aspects of their business and make changes that will help them be even more successful when the economy turns around.
The feedback and information gathered and shared at the seminars will enable the SBTDC and SBCN to develop programs focusing on small business success in a down economy. These programs will be rolled out across the state in January and February.
The Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, Lee County Economic Development Corporation, Committee of 100, in conjunction with Central Carolina Community College’s Small Business Center, hosted the Sanford seminar. The event, held at Chef Paul’s Restaurant, attracted small business owners to hear local financial leaders and others speak about the challenges of the current economic downturn and how to use it to improve business.
“These are extraordinary times we are living in,” Charlie Welborn, managing partner in Davenport, Marvin & Joyce LLP, of Sanford, told the gathering. “Nothing you or I can do will affect AIG or General Motors, but we can focus on the things we can control in our business and community. The successes you experience related to changes you make during this down-time will be the foundation of profitability in better times.”
He and the other speakers offered practical suggestions to help small businesses survive the rough times, such as having a well-written business plan, taking care of current customers rather than spending resources seeking new ones, and honest communication with employees about the status of the company, its finances, and lay-offs. The speakers also urged the business people to build a strong support team including their banker, a CPA, and an attorney.
There is help for small businesses and entrepreneurs, they said. Dr. Ron Ilinitch, regional director of the SBTDC. The SBTDC works with about 5,000 small businesses a year, counseling them in successful business practices. Rita Gale Cruise, regional director of Self-Help, said her organization provides financial support and advocacy for entrepreneurs and small business owners, particularly in rural areas. Central Carolina C.C. operates a Small Business Center in Lee, Harnett and Chatham counties, according to Jim Felton, the college’s SBC director. They offer training for those wanting to start businesses or who already have small businesses.
Robert Gilleland, a partner in Harrington, Gilleland & Winstead LLP, noting that his business is a small business too, provided legal and ownership information to the audience. David Siler, president of Distinctive Human Resources, said that layoffs increase costs to society. Performance-based management and attrition are better ways to reduce the workforce, when necessary. Michael Daly, a BB&T vice president, urged the small business owners present to maintain close contact with their banker and seek the bank's broad assistance capabilities.
The Department of Defense’s Base Realignment and Closure initiative (BRAC) as well as the area’s closeness to the Triangle, offer “incredible opportunities” for small businesses said speaker Mikeal Basinger, Capital Bank Lee County Market executive. He advised those present to improve their cash flows by practicing good fundamentals of accounting, and managing debts and receivables.
Bob Heuts, LCEDC director, said that the Lee County area is well situated for success. It is located between the economic engines of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill to the north and Fayetteville to the south, and has a depth of excellent business talent.
“With these, in spite of the current economic downturn, we have a sustainable, competitive advantage.” Heuts said.
Among those attending the seminar were Eva and Robert Rogers, owners of Sandhills Stone, in Sanford.
“This seminar was very informative,” Eva Rogers said afterward. “It was nice to see that there is concern in the community about small businesses and this was put together. I hope they do more.”