Virginia Highlands Small Business Development Center, Abingdon
Phone: (276) 739-2515 or (276) 739-2474
Is this a statewide or national organization?
It’s a national organization. SBDC is an organization that is partially funded by the Small Business Administration, and our mission is to assist small businesses and would-be businesses to get up and running. To help them to continue to stay in business, to grow, and to assist them in any way possible by counseling them in the areas of management, financial analysis, marketing – all these different areas. We help them prepare for business loans. We’re the technical- assistance providers for SBA-backed loans. Also, part of our mission is to educate. All of the SBDC officers throughout the country, and there are over a thousand, are affiliated with the college or university. So we can leverage their resources, but also we can help educate students as well as adults by the resources available. (Fleckenstein and staff are based at Virginia Highlands Community College. He covers the city of Bristol as well as Washington County and Smith County, but there are offices throughout the commonwealth.)
What do you think is the most valuable thing that you offer small towns?
That’s a good question. I would say the ability to assist people in the understanding of what it really takes to get a business started. Or to help people who are so heavily involved in their business they really don’t see the big picture. We can work as a disinterested third party (I use the word “disinterested” loosely) to sit back, pull them out of the forest so they can see it. And help them move forward.
What would be the role of mayor or town manager – would that be to identify the would-be entrepreneurs and push them in your direction?
Yes, we work with a lot of agencies, and we all bring different things to the table. But our goal is the same: to grow the economy. The town and city governments have their assets and resources they can use. What we do brings something to the table. Other sources may have money. They may have training classes. We all work together to achieve the same goal. But we can’t be all things to all people so we specialize. Our free services are available to virtually anyone who is interested in the business of doing business. This is where we assist.
What do you most wish mayors of small towns and town managers knew that they didn’t know about you?
To know more about SBDC. We have no marketing budget, as a government agency, and [sometimes] we’re running on a shoestring. We’re out there. There are 29 offices in Virginia alone. People don’t realize that. Every one of them is with a college or university. Or working in conjunction with Chambers of Commerce. We’re there, and we are kind of a focal point, too. If we don’t have the answer for what their client or their person needs, we’ll help them find it. Our services are no charge, and there’s no obligation to see us more than once if a client doesn’t want to. What we discuss in our counseling sessions, we don’t do the work for the people – we guide them through the process so they learn. All of our sessions are confidential. We invoke an attorney-client privilege, so whatever they say stays in the conference area. We try as best as we can to get out and spread the word but I think a lot of [local governments] don’t really know what we have to offer.