Entrepreneurs wanted: Women's Biz Center opens
By Reggie Ponder
Thursday, October 5, 2017
A new center offering business technical assistance, business coaching and small-business lending tailored to women entrepreneurs held its official grand opening Tuesday at Elizabeth City State University.
However, the Eastern Women’s Business Center, which is housed at the K.E. White Center at ECSU and opened several months ago, is already drawing raves from economic development professionals in the region.
Lenora Jarvis-Mackey, executive director of River City Community Development Corp., said the Eastern Women's Business Center will make a difference for many of the people River City CDC works with in promoting small business development.
"I am really excited about the resource, especially the access to capital,"Jarvis-Mackey said. "That is the biggest hurdle: the access to capital."
Jarvis-Mackey said she could think immediately of a couple of women entrepreneurs who could benefit from the services the business center offers.
"I will be making a referral," she said.
Likewise, Steve Biggs, economic development director for Bertie County, said the business center is very much needed in the region.
"It will fill a void especially for Bertie County," Biggs said.
He said he has known several women over the past 16 years who have wanted to start businesses in Bertie but did not feel comfortable with the resources that were available and would have benefited from being able to work with other women who were able to guide them through the process. He believes having a Women's Business Center will help women be especially comfortable starting businesses.
Biggs recalled one woman who had wanted to start a restaurant in Aulander. He said he believes she would have felt more comfortable moving ahead with the venture had she been able to get assistance through the Women’s Business Center.
"I'm looking forward to sending women here," Biggs said.
Anita Hummer, a city councilwoman representing Elizabeth City at Tuesday’s event, said women have worked very hard for years but not always had a lot to show for it. The business center gives her hope for better opportunities for women in the community, she said.
"It is a personal pleaure as a woman that I was able to come here today," Hummer said. “I am really happy that this has come to Elizabeth City.”
During the grand opening, attendees heard a testimonial about the business center’s business coaching program from Kathy Davenport, owner of The Shoppes. Davenport said that in 2014 she left Albemarle Hospital and started The Shoppes at City Center. Later she took over the gift business at Kenyon Bailey and The Shoppes grew to more than 50 vendors.
Later the greenhouse at Kenyon Bailey became available but she needed financing to make the expansion work.
Davenport said that the Friday before Labor Day she met with Ginger O’Neal, director of the Small Business Center at College of The Albemarle, and O’Neal referred her to Caitlin Davis, the business center’s director. Davis has been very positive and encouraging as she works with her on obtaining financing, Davenport said.
"I'm not a success story yet but I will be," Davenport said.
Davis said in her remarks at the grand opening that she appreciates the business center’s partners at ECSU and the Carolina Small Business Development Fund for opening the center in Elizabeth City. The business center serves a 22-county region in northeastern North Carolina.
Lenwood V. Long Sr., Carolina Small Business Development Fund’s president and chief executive officer, said he and ECSU Chancellor Thomas Conway had talked about the importance of economic development to northeastern North Carolina.
Seven of the state's 10 "persistent poverty" counties are in the region, Long said, adding that access to capital is part of what is needed for the economic development that will make a difference in high-poverty counties.
"In this area access to capital is a great issue," Long said. "We want this Eastern Women's Business Center to be a changemanker as it relates to women entrepenetuers and small businesses here in northeastern North Carolina. We want to be a difference-maker.”
Russell Haddad, special assistant to the chancellor at ECSU, said one of the main reasons the university is excited about its relationship with the small business fund and the business center is that ECSU shares their vision to create economic opportunity for everyone in northeastern North Carolina.
Larry Biggs, business development officer for Eastern North Carolina with the Carolina Small Business Development Fund, said a big role for the business center is making capital available in northeastern North Carolina. The business fund is increasing its lending portfolio significantly in northeastern North Carolina already this year, according to Biggs.
Davis thanked Hummer and Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, for attending the event. She said she already has talked to women who are very excited about becoming entrepreneurs and looks forward to working with women entrepreneurs.