Workshop series provides valuable resources for local, rural small businesses

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By: Jessica O’Connor

NCGrowth-Smart Up South Carolina hosted a small rural business development workshop series on July 23, 2022 in Walterboro. This free event combined the knowledge of the organization’s staff with a panel of experts and small business owners to provide seventy seven attendees with four workshop sessions.

Assistant director of NCGrowth-Smart Up South Carolina, Kellye Whitaker, recognized that a common pain point among local small businesses in the area was a lack of access to resources. “The people business owners need to talk to in order to access the resources they need are not in Walterboro,” Whitaker said. “My vision for last weekend was getting these experts and attorneys here to specifically talk to rural business owners, because their issues and challenges are unique.”

Each workshop session was led by three to four experts, each of whom could provide a unique perspective and valuable insight on the topic at hand. These sessions included carbon sequestration, cultural tourism and agribusiness in the Lowcountry, legacy and succession planning, and procurement and vendor readiness in cultivating relationships for successful business development.

Four businesses from Colleton County and close by were highlighted, including Dragon Fly Creek Farms, Bowman Vineyard, Peculiar Pig Farm, and Sweetgrass Roots Learning Farm. Ten community partners took part in the Small Rural Business Resource Fair, and representatives from local government as well as state and federal agencies were in attendance.

Participants were treated to local NCGrowth-Smart Up client, Peculiar Pig, for lunch and were greeted by Dr. Saundra Glover, the state director of USDA Rural Development.

The opportunity to network with other attendees made this event even more invaluable. Whitaker noted, “Having access to this new integrated network of resources will help you position your business to thrive and be more sustainable in the local and regional economy.”

NCGrowth-Smart Up South Carolina is made possible by a grant from the USDA and the Truist Foundation, and is an affiliated center within the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Approximately fifteen businesses have taken part in the program so far, and of those around half have been located in Colleton County. The program provides assistance to mature businesses in areas such as financial analysis, marketing, social media planning, farming management plans, and more. “We sit down with these small businesses and ask what is keeping them from growing,” says Whitaker. “We’re there to help them bring more jobs into the community.”

One caveat-clients must pay their employees more than minimum wage. “Those are the people that are really driving the economy,” Whitaker relates. “Those that are making money but not putting it back into the economy are not really helping the county or the city. We want people to work here in Colleton County.”

To learn more about NCGrowth-Smart Up and future workshops, contact Kellye Whitaker at kellye_whitaker@unc.edu. You can also visit the program on the web at https://ncgrowth.unc.edu/.

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