16 Acres hosts business forum
By Debbie Gardner
Assistant Managing Editor
SPRINGFIELD -- Mayor Domenic Sarno and representatives from the city's Office of Planning and Economic Development made their third neighborhood visit last Wednesday, bringing information and resources from the city's recently created Small Business Forum to business owners in 16 Acres.
Alan Kronick of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network talks to business owners at the city's small business forum in 16 Acres on Aug. 4.
"We're going out to neighborhoods, our last visit was in the South End . to meet with neighborhood businesses to let you know what is available on the local, state and federal level to help you with your business," Sarno told those in attendance. "We want to let you know the pros and cons and some of the challenges. Maybe you will learn something today that can help you."
Springfield Chief Development Officer John D. Judge said the forum concept was born from a question posed by Sarno about 10 months ago.
"The mayor asked, 'What are we doing to help small businesses in Springfield? There are 2,500 small businesses in Springfield. What are we doing not only to retain these businesses, but to help them grow?'" Judge said. "So we put together a small business tool kit."
The kit, which was distributed to all attendees, includes a listing of the city's Development Services Division, located in the Richard E. Neal Center on Tapley Street, highlights of the city's competitive advantages for small and large businesses, facts and contacts for the city's small business financing options, information about how to access Springfield's online permitting guide and a brief overview of the tax advantages and funding available for local Brownfield development.
The kit also lists Web sites for more than a dozen small business resources, offers a brief primer on using online and social media marketing and presents information on how to qualify for the city's new Green Seal designation.
"There's a lot of information in the packet they handed out," Dawn Davis, owner of the 16 Acres business Simply Beadiful, told Reminder Publications.
"Beyond [this kit] every one of us is a resource for you . don't hesitate to call and make an appointment," Judge said, referring to the colleagues who had joined him at the presentation Ed Whitley, deputy director of the city's Department of Neighborhood Services, Brian Connors, deputy director of Economic Development and Samalid Hogan, project manager for the Office of Planning and Development.
Hogan outlined some of the financing options available to small business owners including the Grow Springfield Fund, created through a partnership with the Grow America Fund Inc.; the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Small Business Loan Program, a division of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); Develop Springfield's Corridor Storefront Improvement Program (CSIP); the CDBG Neighborhood Storefront Improvement Program; the Economic Development Incentive Program and the MassDevelopment Loan Program.
"The Grow Springfield Fund is a good tool for businesses that are established," Connors said. The Small Business Loan Program, he continued, has restrictions based on HUD's evaluation of the economic need of a neighborhood.
"Sixteen Acres can't use [the Small Business Loan Program] except for a small area of the Outer Belt," he said.
Some of the other funding, such as the Corridor Storefront Improvement Program, and Neighborhood Storefront Improvement Programs are also area-specific at this time.
Kim Marion, personal banking officer at the 16 Acres branch of United Bank, asked if there were criteria for a business to apply for funding through Grow Springfield.
"Do they need to be in business for two years or more?" she asked.
Connors said the city prefers a business be in operation for at least one year before applying to the Grow Springfield Fund.
She also asked if a business owner in the State Street corridor, the area where Storefront Improvement Program monies are available, needed to own a building to apply.
"I'm just thinking of business customers in that stretch who might not be aware of this," she said.
Hogan said a business owner who either owned or leased in that area would be eligible, as long as his or her business was located on the first floor.
Judge also gave a brief overview of social media marketing, which he referred to as "permission marketing"
Listing four free or inexpensive social media marketing tools available to small business owners, Constant Contact, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, Judge said the key to leveraging these electronic connections to increase business is using your chosen medium consistently.
"It's frequent, relevant, personal contact," with customers that will help grow your business, he said.
Alan Kronick, business auditor for the Massachusetts Small Business Development Network, which maintains a Western Regional Office in the Scibelli Enterprise Center at Springfield Technical Community College, also presented a slate of tools available to local businesses and individuals considering a business startup.
Kronick, who is also on the faculty of the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said his office presents an hour-and-a-half program every Monday on how to write a business plan.
Faculty also run a full-day workshop on how to use Quickbooks, and a two-hour workshop on business cards and how to make them work for your business.
"Business cards are the most important tool a small business can have," Kronick said. "You have to have a good business card and you have to know how to use it."
In addition, his office provides help drafting business financing plans "make your mistakes with us," he said and once a business is established for more than two years, offers assistance in searching out potential government contracts.
"Alan and his team can open a lot of doors for you," Sarno said.