More than $1 million available for local small business startups
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Mar 08, 2013 | 6778 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Access to start-up money is no guarantee a new small business will succeed.

But it can’t hurt.

A group of Calhoun County banks and private investors recently created the Advantage Capital Enterprise System program, pooling more than $1 million to lend to new small businesses. Entrepreneurs chosen for the program will receive up to $100,000 to help start their business ventures.

Along with a review council of bankers, investors and advisers, the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce’s Operation 1st RATE program and the Jacksonville State University Small Business Development Center are involved in the entrepreneur program.

“It’s really great that these people have stepped forward to help,” said Sherri Sumners, overseer of Operation 1st RATE, which mainly helps laid-off Anniston Army Depot and chemical weapons incinerator workers find new jobs.

John Wheeler, an Anniston native and retired banker with Regions Bank, started organizing the program more than a year ago as a way to improve the economic situation of the area through the creation of small business.

“During my banking career, that was one thing we tried to stress, to find ways to help people get businesses started,” Wheeler said. “I knew if we got the right combination of supporters, we could help a lot of people.”

Shad Williams, president and CEO of Cheaha Bank in Oxford, said his bank had set aside loan money for the program.

“We lend to businesses in Calhoun County; that’s community banking’s bread and butter,” Williams said. “We’re hopeful this is going to be good for all parties and for the small business community.”

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small business significantly affects Alabama’s economy, representing 96.9 percent of all employers and employing 49 percent of the private-sector labor force.

A review council of the investors will make the ultimate decision on whether to lend money to a particular entrepreneur, becoming partners in the venture. But before that, applicants will need to get through Operation 1st RATE and JSU’s business center.

“I think the beauty of this concept is entrepreneurs will have a bank and an investor and the JSU Small Business Development Center for counsel ... I think we’ve done the best we can to ensure success,” Wheeler said. “A new business needs a lot of help and advice more than just money.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, keeping a small business open for several years is not easy. Statistics show that of all the small businesses opened in March 1994, just 26 percent of them still existed in 2009. The statistics also show that in March 2009, about 66.4 percent of all active businesses had opened after March 1993, making them less than 15 years old.

Sumners said Operation 1st RATE will accept applications for the program and will screen the proposals. Sumners said business proposals will need to meet certain criteria to be accepted in the program.

“We’re looking for businesses that have growth potential ... that can grow and hire,” Sumners said. “Or we’re looking for businesses that bring something new to the market, that maybe have a different take on a product.”

If the applicant has potential but still needs work on a business plan, he or she will be referred to JSU’s business center.

“What we’re doing is we counsel small business start-ups ... help them put a package together,” said Joe Grimes, account executive for the JSU small business center.

Grimes said a good business plan will outline the basic structure and concepts of the company — from describing what the business will make or offer to how it will be financed.

“A good plan doesn’t mean it has to be real thick and have charts and graphs,” Grimes said. “But you need to write it out and think about it.”

Residents can obtain applications from the program at the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, the job station at Quintard Mall, the JSU Small Business Development Center and the Northeast Alabama Entrepreneurial Center. For more information, contact Sherri Sumners at 256-770-7245.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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