Posted on October 27, 2003
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander today announced the approval of a $75,000 grant by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to extend the Smart $tart initiative, which provides entrepreneurial training and technical assistance to small businesses in a nine-county region of southeast Tennessee. The grant is awarded to the Chattanooga-based Southeast Local Development Corporation (SLDC). "It's not easy to start a new business, and it is even more difficult to do in a rural area," Alexander said. "From Dayton to Ducktown, Smart $tart shows that training and support targeted to local needs and the use of available resources can successfully nurture a fledgling business." The Smart $tart business assistance program was begun two years ago by the SLDC, a public, non-profit community development organization. The SLDC and ARC are each investing $75,000 toward the annual cost of funding the initiative through Oct. 2004. "The sharp downturn in many manufacturing sectors has disproportionately hit the Appalachian region," said Anne Pope, federal co-chair of the ARC. "Small business is the engine that drives the economy, creating over 75 percent of new jobs. By jump-starting small businesses, this program diversifies East Tennessee's economy making it more resilient to change." Over its first two years, through individual and group counseling, the program has helped 41 small companies in the development of business plans and financial, management and marketing strategies. Collectively the companies have generated over $12 million in capital investment, created 434 new jobs and helped retain 118 existing jobs in southeast Tennessee. "Start $mart provides training, mentoring and in some cases financial support to new companies," said Joe Guthrie, executive director of SLDC. Based on the program's track record, Guthrie anticipates that the continuation of the program for a third year will assist in the creation of an additional 15 new businesses and 75 new jobs for the region. Guthrie identifies Hiwassee Packaging Corporation and Freedom Machining Solutions, Inc. as models of what can be accomplished in the region with the right support. Hiwassee Packaging began as a response to a niche market opportunity in pool and spa chemicals. With technical assistance and support from Smart $tart, the company was able to secure a facility in Dayton Industrial Park (Rhea County) and adequate financing to acquire needed equipment creating 17 new jobs locally. In less than 24 months the company has grown faster than anticipated and is already pursuing an expansion to accommodate a second packaging line and an additional ten jobs. In Ducktown (Polk County), Freedom Machining is taking strategic advantage of the area's HUB zone designation and positioning the company as a dependable provider of specialty machine parts. HUB zones provide federal contracting assistance for qualified small business concerns that are located in historically underutilized business zones. SLDC helped the principals set up a business plan and negotiate and secure favorable financing for equipment. In a rural, low income area of the copper basin, the company expects to have five full-time, permanent employees working within 24 months. To be eligible for assistance through this program a company can be based in any one of nine counties in the SLDC region: Bledsoe, Bradley, Grundy, Marion, Meigs, McMinn, Polk, Rhea and Sequatchie.