By C.V. Moore
The Register-Herald Mon Jan 23, 2012, 12:04 AM EST
MOUNT HOPE — So far, West Virginia small business entrepreneurs are, for the most part, taking a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to how to capitalize on the Summit Bechtel Reserve, say those in economic development offices.
But for entrepreneurs seeking to supply goods and services to the thousands who will come to Fayette County for the 2013 National Scout Jamboree, resources and assistance are out there.
“I think everybody’s looking forward to it, but they don’t know the magnitude and specifics of what they can do to accommodate these people coming to the area,” says Jim Epling of the Small Business Development Center in Summersville.
Judy Radford, executive director of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority in Beckley, agrees. “I think there will be many opportunities, but it will take time to mature a little bit before we can really see.”
Radford and Epling’s agencies work with entrepreneurs to develop and grow their businesses through training, coaching, and loan programs. Both have thought a lot about the economic impact the Summit might have, but acknowledge that there are still many unknowns.
“Maybe right now we don’t even know what types of businesses we are missing,” says Radford. “We need to begin to think about, when you go on vacation, what sorts of things do you expect to have that you don’t have there now?
“We need to figure out how to be a little more creative in our thinking at our level to find those projects [that] fill a need and provide an opportunity to create a nice income for someone,” says Radford.
Both Radford and Epling have been approached by hotels and motels, but so far not many “home grown” entrepreneurs have come forward seeking assistance.
“It is just simply too early,” says Radford. “A Boy Scout project has never been done this way before. A lot of the questions we just don’t have answers for yet. That’s to be expected.
“Over time, as we get a better feel for the ebb and flow of the project — when people are coming in, where they are staying — then I think you’ll see new ideas pop up.”
Epling says the six- to eight-week window of time surrounding the Jamboree is full of potential, but not necessarily enough to justify large capital additions on existing businesses that operate year-round. At least for now.
“I think it’s probably going to take the first time around in 2013 before people get a feel for what needs to be done,” he says.
Gary Hartley, director of community and governmental relations for the Summit, says he is asked all the time, “what kind of business should I start?” But Hartley speaks broadly and offers the disclaimer that “the Boy Scouts are not the economic development authorities.”
“There are people like the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority — their job is to identify needs and help establish business,” he says.
“We will probably be having a robust construction program between now and the Jamboree. Then, we’ll be bringing hundreds of thousands of visitors over the next 10 years to this area. So there’s an opportunity there for local business to grow and thrive.”
Hartley says the BSA is currently conducting a series of meetings with local contractors to explain the bidding process for BSA projects. A whopping 68 contractors came out to the Beckley meeting, he says. Others were held in Morgantown, Charleston and Lewisburg.
Radford, who also heads up the economic development subcommittee of the Reaching the Summit Committee that’s preparing West Virginia communities for 2013, says she’s hopeful the project will have impacts in both the short and long term. Besides lodging, she expects retail and restaurants to open first, both mom and pop places and chains. But years in the future, she expects to see new business types come in to the area, perhaps brought by the Scouts themselves.
“The Scouts are such a wonderful source of business people,” she says. “When they come in as youngsters, future generations will have a different way of looking at West Virginia. We expect to see some of those people looking at us to establish manufacturing or new technology businesses. We think they will look here, where before we might not have attracted that attention.”
Resources for entrepreneurs
New River Gorge Economic Development Authority, Beckley
• Existing business support
• One-on-one project analysis
• Advice on expanding, tweaking, and making your business more efficient
• Revolving Fund Loan Program — large and micro-loan packages
• Working capital loan program
• Loans for natural asset-related businesses and green development
Women’s Business & Training Center, Beckley
• Training in computer skills, marketing, equipment maintenance, and other areas
• Business coaching
Small Business Development Center, Summersville
• Jumpstart Program to train people new to business
• Help navigating regulations, licensing, and permitting
• Free business coaching and counseling
• Free classes in business fundamentals and sustainable growth
• Developing a business plan
• Financing assistance
Region 1 Workforce West Virginia, Beckley
• Counseling and support for startup or existing businesses
• Financial assistance
• Training in planning, marketing, and use of technology
• Technical consulting
• Job applicant pool and other workforce support