Huntington Announces Small Business Initiative
The city of Huntington hopes to encourage more entrepreneurial spirit through a newly launched small business initiative. Officials gathered Monday morning to announce Huntington Be Small, Live Large.
Robert Smith owns Robert’s Running and Walking in downtown Huntington. He opened his shop eight years ago. Smith was on hand as the city announced the initiative to help entrepreneurs get their small businesses off the ground. The program was not in place for Smith when he opened his shop selling running shoes and equipment.
“It’s true what they say, the first two to three years was very, very tough. The business side of it is always going to be there, the stress of the business, the sleepless nights, the taking it home with you is always going to be there,” Smith said. “But as far as having the city kind of backing now and helping navigate the system as far as that goes, I mean anything that they can do to decrease the stress on the business side, is a welcome for us.”
Huntington Be Small. Live Large is an effort to help entrepreneurs and small business owners get through each step in the process of opening a new business in town. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said often times in the past the city did not help make things easier on business owners, he wants to change that.
“What was very important to me is to let people know that the city of Huntington is now an active partner, we haven’t always been. It was hand a sheet of paper to someone, good luck, call these names, it was just names within city hall,” Williams said.
The partnership involves the city, the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, Unlimited Future Inc, the Small Business Development Center, Create Huntington, Downtown Huntington Partners and the Huntington Area Development Council.
Sharon Pell is the Business Services Advocate for the City of Huntington. She was brought aboard in August of 2013 with the express purpose of streamlining the process to start a business and to help walk entrepreneurs through the process.
“What I will do is sit down with a handout with the applications and say what type of business are you getting ready to start and I’ll do a little intake and I’ll point them in the right directions,” Pell said. “I’ll walk them to the departments that they need to go to and I will also if needed take it around so they don’t have to and they can sit in my office and I tell them what applications and forms to fill out,, so they’re not as overwhelmed as they were before.”
Pell said she’s heard from many that the process was tedious and sometimes convoluted.
“I hear some horror stories sometimes and people will come in and say I’ve heard that this is so difficult and it seems like when we are finished they are thinking me for going through the process and helping with it and they like the fact that they feel like they have that friend to walk through it with them,” Pell said.
Several events are scheduled in the near future to jump start the program. Among those events are Create Huntington Chat’N Chews focused on small business development and workshops hosted by Unlimited Future Inc, which works with small businesses already in Huntington.
Bridget Rowsey is a 2008 business graduate of Marshall University and owns Bridget’s Dance Academy. She was recognized at the announcement as the state entrepreneur of the year. She said starting a small business is a tough, but rewarding process.
“Our first time being at our first location, we didn’t have the services that the city is offering now and it was a challenge because you had to go office to office and building to building on your own and kind of figure it out by yourself, but with Sharon and the services they’ve put together she really did the work for me and I was able to check off a list with her beside me,” Rowsey said.
Robert Smith applauds Huntington officials for taking a new approach.
“When I was starting my business in Huntington I felt a lot of negativity, ok that will never work here type of thing,” Smith said. “So what I want to do and what they’re trying to do is to create more of a positive, hey if you have a great idea, how can we help you make that idea happen and I didn’t have a whole lot of that and I think that’s what they’re trying to change.”
Mayor Williams hopes this program will spur people who are thinking about opening their own business, to take the next step.