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Small biz start-ups still a lure to would-be entrepreneurs

Ginger O'Neal
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Ginger O'Neal, director of the Small Business Center at College of The Albemarle, said starting a business still takes the same commitment and investment it always has. Still, there are a lot of people pursuing businesses right now, and more resources to help them, she said.

Lenora Jarvis-Mackey
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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Talk to local business experts, and they'll tell you now is a good time to start a small business – provided you're still willing to work your tail off.

“I wouldn't say it's getting any easier [to start a business],” said Lenora Jarvis-Mackey, president of River City Community Development Corporation. “Starting may be better than last year or the year before.”

Similarly, Ginger O'Neal, director of the Small Business Center at the College of the Albemarle, said starting a business still takes the same commitment and investment it always has. Still, there are a lot of people pursuing businesses right now, and more resources to help them, she said.

“Right now there's a lot of activity,” she said.

The SBC, a state-funded organization serving seven local counties, and RCCDC, a local non-profit, both work with aspiring entrepreneurs to help turn viable business ideas into realities. The directors of both discussed recent trends in startup activity – including both popular and overlooked business ideas – in interviews last month. Entrepreneurial activity is up overall, they explained, a potential effect of an improving economy. To that point, state unemployment data for February, the most recent month available, show regional unemployment below 6 percent and statewide unemployment below 5 percent.

O'Neal said she's averaged about 80 potential businesses that she's consulted with. The types of businesses include heavy equipment mechanics, home health services, landscapers, food trucks, and event planning.

O'Neal also said she's seen a rise in clients who come to her with viable business ideas, “as opposed to, I don't want to call them tire-kickers.”

O'Neal also explained she's seeing many people who want to start a business while maintaining their day jobs. She also noted some entrepreneurs have continued to work out of their homes to hold down costs while they build a customers base – she's been working with one such customer for two years, she said.

Though entrepreneurial activity is on the rise, O'Neal said the processes and resources involved in starting businesses haven't changed much. Businesses still have to get government permits and approvals, have startup capital to cover many months of not being profitable, and more. However, O'Neal also said groups that assist small businesses are working together better to guide business owners.

“I would say we're collaborating better than we did years ago,” she said.

Jarvis-Mackey said the RCCDC worked with 25 businesses last year, and the types varied greatly, including contractors, retailers and even a pet groomer. She also highlighted RCCDC's recent success in bringing APEX Event Center to its business incubator, the Shoppes at Renaissance Square, on South McMorrine Street in Elizabeth City. Ruby Mercer opened the business in November and had a grand opening in February.

Though small business activity seems on the rise – “'entrepreneur' seems to be becoming a buzzword,” Jarvis-Mackey noted – she said it remains challenging to start a sustainable business. Capital is a challenge, and people need to understand it takes a lot detailed planning to make a business work.

“Although you may have a great idea, not everyone is meant for small business,” she said.

Nevertheless, becoming a business owner can be very rewarding for those who offer the right products or skills at the right time. Asked about untapped markets for entrepreneurs to consider, O'Neal and Jarvis-Mackey cited water activity rentals and technological services as two areas. Jarvis-Mackey explained there's a need for people who are good with computers, whether for maintenance and repair or information technology support.

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