‘Small’ Center, Big Impact

Vital Valley Business Resource Marks 25 Years

Posted: March 25, 2014

Joyce Krech, director of the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center, explains what the center offers during a tour of its new offices last week in the Ice House building at West Bruce and South Liberty streets. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)

HARRISONBURG — The Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center runs a slideshow on its website highlighting local companies.

Katrina Didot credits it with helping to make a success of her Harrisonburg restaurant, A Bowl of Good.

Frank Will, co-owner of the Mt. Crawford Creamery, says it “played a crucial role in expanding our farm services to include” the creamery.

And Shannon and Sarah Showalter call the SBDC a “trusted part of our business management team” for Old Hill Cider in northwestern Rockingham County.

As it celebrates its 25th birthday this year, the SBDC is celebrating the businesses it serves.

Coinciding with the occasion is the opening of its new office in the Ice House mixed-use development along Bruce and South Liberty streets in downtown Harrisonburg.

Staff moved into the renovated space in February, even as construction on much of the Ice House facility is ongoing.

The Shenandoah Valley SBDC is one of 29 such centers throughout the commonwealth that offer professional business advice, training, information and resources to strengthen the local business community, officials say.

Harrisonburg City Council and the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors approved resolutions earlier this year honoring the center, which was established at James Madison University in 1989.

“We view ourselves as a resource to the counties and to the cities,” Director Joyce Krech said. “We do a lot of conversation and collaboration with all of our economic development officers in the cities and counties.”

The Valley SBDC’s coverage area includes the counties of Rockingham, Page, Shenandoah, Augusta, Bath, Highland and Rockbridge and the cities located within them.

Most of the localities it serves, including Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, provide financial support to the center.

Based in Harrisonburg, the center also has an office in Verona. Staff also conduct regular meetings with clients in Luray, Monterey and Lexington.

Last year, the Valley center met with about 270 clients.

About half of its clients are established businesses, and the rest are new or just getting started, Krech said.

Finances and marketing are common areas where businesses seek assistance, she said.

Brian Shull, Harrisonburg’s economic development director, said the SBDC meets a demand the city does not have the resources to fill.

“They provide a very much-needed service to the Harrisonburg business community by assisting people with business planning, helping them develop business plans, and thoroughly thinking through opportunities for starting a business,” he said. “And they have a great track record of assisting entrepreneurs getting into business.”

In its new space, the SBDC will be able to more effectively collaborate with partner organizations Shenandoah Valley Partnership and Shenandoah Valley Technology Council.

The partnership is a regional economic development group, while the council supports tech-related businesses and organizations. Like the SBDC, both are administered through JMU.

The SBDC moved from 1598 S. Main St., while the partnership and tech council moved to the Ice House from space off Mount Clinton Pike west of U.S. 11.

Many of the businesses the SBDC serves are also clients of either or both the council and partnership.

“It will be a nice synergy for the business community,” Krech said. “If we’re talking to a tech business, I can literally walk upstairs and introduce them to [tech council CEO] Nicky Swayne.”

Moving forward, the SBDC will continue its focus on small businesses, which Krech said have a significant, and often intangible, effect on the community.

“It’s not numeric,” she said. “It’s qualitative.”

Contact Jeremy Hunt at 574-6273 or jhunt@dnronline.com

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