COVINGTON – To build up small businesses in local rural communities, Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday announced that $180,000 will be given to five localities to help train and provide seed money for local entrepreneurs.
A partnership between the city of Covington and the town of Clifton Forge along with Danville, Galax and Suffolk each received $45,000 in Community Business Launch awards. The money will be used to provide training to entrepreneurs and conduct business plan competitions that align with local and regional economic development strategies, primarily in Virginia’s downtown commercial districts.
The investment is what Northam said is crucial to rebuilding the economy in rural southwest Virginia.
"People need to realize that it is the small businesses, the small startups that are the backbone of our economy,” Northam said.
The money will provide training to entrepreneurs and even seed money they'll compete for in the annual business competition the Gauntlet that serves entrepreneurs in the Roanoke Valley and Allegheny Highlands.
The Guantlet, hosted by the Advancement Foundation in Vinton, is a “Shark-Tank” like program for startups that offers a 10-week course used to teach how to craft a business plan. Then startup owners have the option to enter that business plan into a competition where they can earn seed money or in-kind services.
The goal of the grant is to help local entrepreneurs in rural communities build up business and help revive the local economy.
"The way to jump-start areas like Covington and Clifton Forge is to help entrepreneurs,” Northam said. “Anything I can do to help rural Virginia, I'll do and it starts with small businesses."
Eco Brew tours, a business that caters to those wanting to tour local breweries is a previous winner of the Gauntlet. Owners Brian Johnson and Lisa Sink both said the program was crucial to their launch.
“It's really helped us really kind of formulate what our business plan is,” Sink said. “It really helps forming contacts as well, meeting new people opening new doors, and understanding how to accomplish things to start your own business,” Johnson said.
For another Gauntlet participant, Carrie Poff, owner of Brown Hound tree services, the program took her existing business to the next level.
"Whenever people are able to follow their dreams and do what they love, they are going to stick around and stay in their communities. Validation from the governor and state officials make you want to stick around, “ Poff said.
CBL is implemented through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development with a goal of supporting localities in their efforts to create a productive environment for new businesses and jobs that support their vision for revitalization.
“Community Business Launch is a resourceful program that offers training to entrepreneurs to prepare small business owners for the rigors of operating in today’s rapidly changing commercial climate,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “We look forward to new businesses opening and current businesses expanding throughout these communities that will only enhance the vibrancy and quality of life in each of these downtown districts.”
Since 2014, $1.26 million in CBL funds have been awarded to 19 communities serving more than 370 participating entrepreneurs across Virginia. In total, CBL has garnered more than $1.4 million in private investment, with more than 125 new full-time jobs created and at least 60 jobs retained.