Grant Aims To Help Businesses In Need Of Advice, Assistance

SNOW HILL – A grant of $20,000 will help Worcester County businesses get the help they need from the Small Business Development Center at Salisbury University, including assistance with renewable energy and energy savings.

The Worcester County Economic Development Department and the Small Business Development Center have worked together for 10 years with the center stepping in when the economic development staff does not have the expertise to help a county business.

“We come in and fill that niche,” said John Hickman, director of the Small Business Development Center.

There is no charge to companies for help from the center. Costs are taken from the county grant.

“The demand from the last two years has grown dramatically as companies try to adjust to the new economy,” said Worcester County Economic Development Director Jerry Redden.

In the past, economic development has asked to grant $10,000 to $15,000 for the Small Business Development Center’s services, but this year needs are higher, Redden said.

County staff refer business owners to the center at all stages, from start-ups to long-running concerns.

Business owners seek help with research on their industry, whether starting up a new concern is worthwhile, how best to position a business, as well as assistance with the details of running a business, such as cash flow analysis. The center also offers direct help on identifying and applying for grants.

“We help them make those decisions,” said Hickman.

Business owners do not necessarily have the time or expertise to do that research themselves, he said.

In the past 10 years, the center has worked with 70 county businesses.

Part of the mission this year for the Small Business Development Center’s work with county businesses is an emphasis on seeking renewable energy resources and energy savings, often through grants.

Redden said that in his experience, it is rare for companies not to get funding after assistance from the development center.

“Very seldom does a company not get financed,” said Redden.

“The cost of some of the equipment is starting to come down to where using alternate energy systems is starting to make sense for some businesses,” said Hickman.

The Small Business Development Center is also currently working with at least three Worcester County businesses looking to provide energy-related services.

One company is exploring provision of combined heat and power  to small commercial buildings and potentially residential customers, while two others are looking into renewable energy for the same type of buildings.

The center helps to answer questions on grant funding and tax abatements for energy businesses, Hickman said.

If the need is growing, Commissioner Judy Boggs wondered, would $20,000 be enough for one year?

“My guess is we probably won’t be overwhelmed within a reasonable one year period of time,” said Hickman. If there is great demand, needs tend to overlap and focus could then be shifted to more generalized group training for business owners, followed up by one on one counseling.”

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