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Expert to help chamber with new program for entrepreneurs

SALISBURY — Rowan County could have its own version of “Shark Tank” if an entrepreneurial development program takes off.
Economic development leaders have invited nationally known small business start-up expert Erik Page to town to talk about how the community can embrace and encourage entrepreneurship.
Pages is president of Arlington,Va.-based EntreWorks Consulting, an economic development consulting and policy development firm focused on helping communities and organizations achieve their entrepreneurial potential.
Pages has helped numerous communities “grow their own” business success stories. He will spend two days in Salisbury meeting with business owners, elected officials, civic leaders, budding entrepreneurs and angel investors.
The signature event during his visit will be an address at the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce’s Power in Partnership breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Nov. 21.
Chamber President Elaine Spalding worked with Pages to set up an entrepreneurial development program in Paducah, Kent., where she led the chamber. Spalding said growing small businesses can include initiatives like a shark tank process, similar to the popular TV show, where entrepreneurs present their business ideas to a panel of angel investors from the community.
Such investors exist here, but often the only people who know how to get access to them are friends and family members, Spalding said.
“But there are many other good ideas out there,” she said.
Robert Van Geons, executive director for RowanWorks Economic Development, also has worked with Pages and will help direct his visit.
Pages said many communities are still engaged in traditional economic development — luring the big factory. That recently worked for Rowan County, which has landed two Gildan textile manufacturing plants scheduled to create 384 jobs and invest $173 million in construction and equipment.
“That’s still a legitimate strategy, but that can’t be the only thing you focus on,” Pages said. “You need to help local small businesses grow.”
Small businesses are the best job creation engines in the post-recession economy, he said, and communities need to learn how to nurture entrepreneurship.
“It’s actually a change of culture,” he said. “Every job should be honored and celebrated. Even a new nail salon. The attitude has to be, we will do whatever we can to support them and help them grow.”
While it’s easy to start a business, maintaining and growing a new company is hard, Pages said. Communities can help their small businesses succeed by launching initiatives like coaching, mentoring, entrepreneur networks and help from investors, he said.
“It’s not just here’s your building and a tax break,” Pages said.
Governments and organizations alike are strapped for cash, and these strategies are labor-intensive but low-cost, he said.
“Entrepreneurs want to be with other entrepreneurs,” Pages said. “Give them those opportunities with workshops or just regular meetings where they can talk about business and strategies, not hear from elected officials.”
In an entrepreneurial development program, the community serves as the catalyst, the cheerleader, the investor of last resort, he said. Ideally, the effort will build enthusiasm and hope within a community, he said.
“This will help a community take control of its own destiny, as opposed to saying, someone come and save us,” Pages said. “It’s a homegrown, asset-based economic development strategy.”
Asheville offers a good example of the strategy at work, he said. The city embraced the approach about 15 years ago and has reaped the benefits.
“This take a lot of time. It’s creating jobs in ones and twos, and that’s one of the challenges in this strategy,” he said. “It’s not the big scissors and ribbon cuttings at the plant. You have to create all these mini-wins to build momentum and support for this strategy.”
The reservation deadline to hear Pages at the chamber’s Nov. 21 breakfast is 5 p.m. Nov. 19, and the cost is $12 for members and $20 for non-members. Contact the Chamber at 704-633-4221 or info@rowanchamber.com. The breakfast is held at Trinity Oaks, 728 Klumac Road.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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