The Agri-Exposition Center was buzzing with business talk yesterday during the third annual Sampson County Small Business Summit.
Around 20 vendors filled the room, ready and waiting to help citizens start or improve their own small businesses.
Some vendors, such as the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce, Business Link North Carolina (BLNC), the NC Lawyers for Entrepreneurs Assistance Program (NC LEAP), and the Small Business Center of Sampson Community College, were on hand to provide business assistance in the form of valuable information and resources.
Others, like the Sampson County Revolving Loan Program, the Rural Venture Fund, Triangle South Enterprise Center, and the Building Reuse Program, were there to offer financial assistance.
And numerous locals came out in search of this information and assistance. According to Cliff Ireland, director of the Small Business Center at SCC, about 75 people attended the summit.
Among the 75 was local business owner Belinda Jordan who came out to the summit to explore the kinds of help available to her and her business.
“I own a tanning salon and gift shop called “Bliss” with my daughter out on Southeast Boulevard. We like to stock our gift shop with locally done crafts,” said Jordan, mentioning that they sell items like birdhouses and handmade jewelry.
“As a new start up business — we’ve been up and running about a year now — we wanted to see what kind of assistance is available to us and to take advantage of that,” explained Jordan. “Plus, this is so easy; it’s local and it’s free.”
Seeing the amount of assistance available to her raised Jordan’s hopes for the success of her business. “I’m hopeful and think this will prove to be an optimistic time.”
First time attendee Holly Olier was impressed with the amount and variety of help offered.
“I’m with Circle City Taxes in Newton Grove. Newton Grove is kind of isolated so I came here today to find out what’s available, what’s out there. There’s so much here. I had no idea it would be like this,” shared Olier. “I’m amazed.”
Olier added that the two break-out sessions, one about the common mistakes small businesses make and the other about the NC Live business database website, were of particular interest to her. “I’m really looking forward to the presentations and hearing what the speakers have to say.”
Along with Olier, around 35 summit attendees took part in the break-out sessions.
“I’m especially pleased with the number of people who participated in the break-out sessions,” said Ireland. “This was something new we wanted to do, especially for the people who had been to the summit before. This was something new for them.”
The summit was not just for current small business owners though. Others, like Mary Lee, attended because they have dreams of owning their own business one day and want to be prepared when the time comes.
“I currently work in healthcare in Goldsboro, but I’m planning on retiring in a couple of years. I’d love to open my own restaurant because I love serving people,” said Lee. “I came today to just see what’s here and to look at how to get started.”
Like Lee, Kim Stroud came to the summit to start planning for the future.
“At this stage, we’re not even sure what kind of business we might want to do. My husband and I have been thinking about a variety of things that we’re interested in that we could turn into a business,” noted Stroud. “Today, I’m just here to get a feel for what assistance is available, what our options are, and how we might get started.”
Valerie Bartell and Laura Kane attended the event not necessarily with hopes of one day owning their own business but because summits like this offer a great opportunity for networking.
“I’m finishing a medical billing and coding program and came here today to see if I could network with some people who might know of job opportunities. I’m also interested in possibly doing medical billing and coding on my own, so I’d like to see about how to get started and figure out how to pay for that,” shared Kane. “This is a great way to get your name out there and also pass resumes along.”
“This is the third year I’ve been. There’s lots of resources, answers, and opportunities here,” added Bartell.
One of the best but little known resources is NC Live, a database service available through Clinton’s public library, the J.C. Holliday Memorial Library, which provides free access to business and career information.
“Quality research and data is not really available through Google,” stressed library director Heather Bonney. “People, especially small business owners, need to know that we’re the gateway to that through NC Live.”
“If you have a library card with us, you have access to so much free information,” explained Bonney. “Anything you want to look up is available. There’s databases that provide information on how to write business plans, how to research and invest in stocks, and so much more. There’s also things like practice tests and career assessments available.”
Bonney shared that small business owners would find databases like SimplyMap, Morning Star, and the Wall Street Journal particularly helpful.
Overall, summit attendees found the entire event very helpful and enlightening. According to Ireland, the summit “reached quite a few people and we’re receiving positive feedback.”
“We would always like larger crowds, but we’re very pleased with this year’s summit,” Ireland reflected. “We were excited to add new vendors this year as we try to do every year, and we were glad that lots of new people came out who had never been before. I think this summit will be something that we continue to collaborate on and continue to hold every year.”
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 123 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.