Georgia Reaches out to Entrepreneurs
When it comes to nurturing small businesses, Georgia "gets it."
In 2004, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, a small business owner himself, helped launch the Entrepreneur Friendly program. Hosted by the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD), it helps Georgia communities foster their existing small businesses and potential startups.
"The economic activity created by small businesses and entrepreneurs brings prosperity and opportunity to every part of Georgia," Governor Perdue said. "By championing these businesses, we are investing in a stronger future for communities throughout the state."
The Entrepreneur Friendly program, which is now in Phase II, designated 129 of Georgia’s 159 counties. Each community—represented by a locally formed committee— worked with GDEcD Small Business & Innovation regional project managers to develop customized strategies to support small businesses and entrepreneurs. They also underwent a review by a team of economic development professionals in their region. For a list of Entrepreneur Friendly communities and the support programs they developed, visit http://www.georgia.org/Business/Entrepreneur+Friendly+Communities.htm.
The results speak for themselves. In September 2008, Georgia was ranked third in the nation on the Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America. The state has also garnered top rankings in entrepreneurship by the Kaufman Foundation, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation as well as non-employer business growth from the U.S. Census Bureau. Georgia’s overall business climate has also improved—in 2008 it jumped from No. 15 to No. 5 on Forbes’ Best States for Business list.
GDEcD’s 10 Small Business & Innovation regional project managers, who work with communities and companies around the state, have also noticed a change. In one year, the conversion of project announcements to new jobs and investment growth has increased from 29 percent (fiscal year 2007) to 68 percent (fiscal year 2008).
Athens, Ga. small business Fire & Flavor Grilling is just one example of a company that has benefited from the entrepreneur-centric environment. The company, which provides products for at-home cooks including cedar grill planks, was founded by Gena and Davis Knox in 2003. In 2005, regional project manager Ryan Thornton identified Fire & Flavor as a high growth company and sought to help it grow efficiently and effectively.
"A big asset to doing business in Georgia is its many educational institutions and the talent that stems from them," Thornton said. "I introduced the Knoxes to the Georgia Tech Innovation Institute, which helped Fire & Flavor with their warehouse layout and racking." Thornton also provided market data and research to assist Fire & Flavor.
"Through the state, we were able to get connected to local resources and expertise that enhanced our marketing and operations," said Davis Knox, chief financial officer of Fire & Flavor Grilling Company.
The results? In 2008, Fire & Flavor was named No. 8 on the Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America – Food & Beverage category. The company has emerged from its humble garage origins to occupy a 40,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution facility with 17 employees.
Georgia’s communities have embraced the Entrepreneur Friendly program, which continues to support companies in those communities. It’s no surprise in a state that counts more than 95 percent of its businesses as having fewer than 20 employees.
"One cannot overlook the importance of small business in today’s economy," said Perry Swanson, president and CEO of the Peach County Chamber of Commerce. "Large industry can create a large amount of jobs and be a staple of the community, but it is small businesses that define the culture of a region; the flavor of a community. A large number of small businesses in a concentrated area help diversify the investment in a local economy. Only with that investment can a community hope to survive the many different economic trends occurring over time."