“I need somebody to tell me right now where the best place to put my marketing dollars is,” Maria Whaley, co-owner of Ashe Woodworking said Monday. That is not Whaley’s only need, but an example of the type of thing she is looking for as a business person feeling the crunch of slower economic times.
She was spotlighted as the force behind formation of an ad hoc group put together by the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce to brainstorm help for small business.
The group met Monday at the Blue Ridge Rural Electric Co-op’s Ashe County office. Most businesses represented around the table employ fewer than five people.
Also present to hear needs and supply suggestions were Chris Robinson of Wilkes Community College Ashe Campus.
He has been considered a leader in the effort to retrain people laid off from area industries and help them find work in new fields.
Also present was Herman Mezler, a member of the region’s branch of SCORE, a group of mostly retired business people who volunteer to mentor small business entrepreneurs.
Phyllis VanHoy, director of agency development and training for Wilkes Community College served as facilitator for the meeting.
She asked the group what it is they need “right now” as a way of getting the discussion started. The question was an indication of a rising urgency toward help because businesses are reporting seeing fewer customers in recent months. Some have laid off employees and are struggling to remain open.
“Many in this room are seeing economic times like they have never seen before,” the chamber’s executive director, Cabot Hamilton said.
Robinson an officer of the chamber said that 80 percent of the dues for the organization come from small business but the organization has no committee to focus on the specific needs of the members.
He suggested a committee that would help organize for the specific needs of small business and advocate for them.
“If picking up garbage a different time of day would be advantageous for small businesses, somebody needs to be advocating that for them,” he said.
VanHoy listed The Small Business Development Center, SCORE, Wilkes Community College, NC Rural Development Center and the Ashe County Library Business Development Center as sources of assistance but said getting people to realize the resources are available is difficult.
The session identified a need to form an advocacy group for small business, a centralized information center.
As an immediate response, the chamber will provide an information center for small business assistance services.
They also discussed the formation of a networking organization that would allow local businesses to meet and talk about what they do as a way of gathering new customers.