Town considering business development program

Strasburg town officials are considering possibly participating in a business development program through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.

Through the community development organization People Inc., Strasburg applied for the department’s Virginia Community Business Launch program.

At a work session on Tuesday, council members heard a presentation on the program from Leslie Currle, business development manager for People Incorporated.

Community Business Launch is a seven-month, grant-based program through the department that is centered on giving entrepreneurs a chance to open a business.

This year, the department will provide $60,000 to five communities to hold the program – which contains workshops and marketing courses as well as a business proposal competition.

During the competition, the entrepreneurs will pitch their business plan to a panel of town representatives.

The ultimate goal of the competition is to put businesses in business and historic districts and to provide small towns with jobs.

Town Manager Ryan Spitzer said, “[People Inc.] would run the grant on behalf of the town, if council would decide to go forward with it.”

Currle said that anyone living outside of Strasburg can partake in the program – the cast is that they must open their business in the Strasburg if they participate.

The department will be announcing the five selected communities the first two weeks of September.

Along with receiving $60,000 to fund the workshops and additional programming required, a 25 percent match required by the participating locality.

Currle said the matching funds can come from a bank or the town itself. A total of $15,000 or more will go toward the winning business following the end of the competition.

In order to receive the funding, Currle noted that the entrepreneur must provide a detailed account of where the $15,000 will be going.

Once selected, the winning business is then required to open up shop no later than September of 2016.

Currle said that the yet-to-be-determined panel of town representatives would vote on the winning business at the end of the proposal competition.

“One of the exciting things about this is, while only a limited number of entrepreneurs may actually win the competitions, it does give rise to many budding entrepreneurs,” Currle said.

During Currle’s presentation, council members asked numerous questions about the program.

Councilman Rich Orndorff expressed concerns over the start-up costs and hurdles for small business owners.

“I know that a lot of folks that would like to open things in town, they run into the financial obstacles of first month, last month, security deposit,” Orndorff said.

Orndorff noted that $15,000 does not cover everything that some businesses would need to start-up.

Councilman Donald Levine said, “This is not to fund somebody 100 percent to open their business, this is to give somebody a boost.”

Currle added, “$15,000 may not seem like a lot, but for many people, they don’t necessarily need that money.”

Virginia Community Business Launch was started in December of 2014, and the communities of Gloucester, Hopewell and Staunton were selected to receive $100,000 each.

Spitzer said, “When other towns have gone through this program, it has helped their small entrepreneurs with jobs and creating businesses downtown … it’s a good program.”

Council will decide in the next few weeks whether to participate in the program, if Strasburg is selected as one of the sites.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com