Thanks to Kim Stout, Business Development Coordinator of Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem, for this post!
In order to cope with the emerging needs of small businesses in Lehigh and Northampton counties, Community Action and Lehigh Valley SCORE partnered in 2010 in hopes of keeping small businesses in the Lehigh Valley open while maintaining the jobs that go with them. A joint effort created the Small Business Assistance Program.
The Small Business Assistance Program provided free technical assistance from trained staff and volunteers, as well as a range of professional services to qualifying small businesses in the Lehigh Valley. The professional services were available through vouchers in amounts of up to $5,000. The program was funded by a one-time grant awarded to Community Action under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The professional services available to qualifying businesses include general and specialized training, accounting, marketing, legal, architectural, website design, creative training, building inspection and translation services. Services are provided by local businesses designated by Community Action.
The program received 172 applications. Each applicant was carefully reviewed, interviewed and had to provide adequate documentation if they met the requirements of the program. Each business owner was offered technical assistance regardless of whether they received a voucher or not. Of the 172 applicants, 50 small businesses received vouchers totaling $124, 070.
Without the assistance of the program, each of the business owners would have continued to struggle during the economic downturn. Sam Radin of Lehigh Valley Auto Sales received $2,000 to help with his accounting and marketing for his business. On a follow up survey received in February 2011, Mr. Radin stated that his business has increased as a direct result of the voucher he received. He has become more knowledgeable of his accounting system and has more understanding of using the internet to grow his business. He has been able to stay open, plus use the mechanic and detailing businesses more often to assist with his business. Mr. Radin’s business continues to improve and he is planning to build a garage and hire additional help in the upcoming year.
This is just one example of the 50 small businesses that the Small Business Assistance Program has affected in the last year. After surveying the group, we have found that 83 jobs have been retained, including those of the business owners, and ten jobs have been created. Three businesses, TJL Plumbing, Marathon Glove and Safety and Greenway Pest Control, expect to hire at least one to two people this year.
Other comments made by the group include:
Ebert Furniture: “We have seen a 10% increase in business with our new website.”
All About Singles: “We have seen a slight increase.”
Marathon Glove and Safety: “In 2011, we will need to hire 2-4 new employees.”
TJL Plumbing: “I’m spending less on advertising and receiving more inquiries with the new website. I expect to hire by 2012.”
Steve’s Painting Service: “My annual revenue has increased 75% from 2009 to 2010.”
Robert’s Electric: “We added an electrician and a helper.”
Back Door Bake Shop: “Looking to expand the business into retail.”
Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn: “The business had increased. We have seen many new customers that have never been here before.”
The Wonder Kids: “This has encouraged me to move forward and expand my business.”
Greenway Pest Control: “I anticipate hiring for the Bug Season.”
Lehigh Valley Credit Repair: “We have gained a lot of business.”
Business groups have played a part in the Small Business Assistance Program. The partnership with SCORE has allowed our applicants access to more workshops, roundtables and networking opportunities. The local SCORE chapter hosted 3 workshops in 2010 that concentrated on marketing, human resources, and funding sources. The attendance increased dramatically from about 20 participants to 65 participants. The 172 applicants receive ongoing notices from Community Action about upcoming events for small businesses in the Lehigh Valley.
Commercial activities have also increased through use of the list of professional services. When a small business was awarded a voucher, Community Action provided them a list of professional services the owner could use to help stimulate the business. The professional services were also local small businesses and saw an increase in business as well during 2010 because of the program.