Arlington to Aid Entrepreneurs

Arlington to Aid Entrepreneurs

County government starts new initiative to help small business owners thrive.

The county government is launching a new series of measures to assist Arlington small business owners, many of whom are threatened by redevelopment and the potential loss of customers due to the Base Realignment and Closure process.

County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman announced during his "State of the County" speech on June 7 that the government will add two full-time staff members to aid local entrepreneurs and provide more workshops, counseling and management planning services to small business owners.

"We are committed to supporting and nurturing local entrepreneurship and the small business sector that are essential to what makes Arlington special," Zimmerman said in his speech to the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

More than three-quarters of Arlington businesses have fewer than 20 workers, and they supply 37,000 jobs in the county. Additionally, approximately 18 percent of these small businesses are minority-owned, Zimmerman said.

YET MANY local entrepreneurs are threatened by rising property values and are at risk to lose their space due to redevelopment. In response, the county is doubling the financial resources it uses to help small business owners market their companies and find new sites if they are displaced.

The county is planning to bolster its businesses assistance program, called "BizLaunch," and the staff members will hold workshops in the community to teach new entrepreneurs how to write business plans, pay taxes and apply for permits.

"It will be a very helpful one-stop shop and provide them with information, resources and research tools," said Tara Miles, the BizLaunch coordinator.

BizLaunch was instrumental in enabling Jason Andelman to realize his dream of opening a business that combines his passion for art and chocolate. With the assistance of county staff members, Andelman was able to start Artisan Confections, which places local artwork on chocolate morsels.

"I was just a pastry chef with no business experience," Andelman said. "They set me up with everything."

The county is also focusing on aiding small nonprofit enterprises to ensure that they can continue to thrive in the county's cutthroat business environment. Miles and the two new staff members will give guidance on fund-raising and financial management.

"To remain competitive they have to use the same models as for-profit companies, and we are going to assist them with that," Miles said.

THE OTHER MISSION of the new initiative is to support entrepreneurs who will be affected by the impending departure of 17,000 Department of Defense workers and private contractors from Crystal City.

While the first BRAC-related vacancies are not expected to occur for several more years, the county has already established a task force to help mitigate the effects of losing so many workers in such a short time period.

The task force has called for a "transition center" in Crystal City to assist the 300 small businesses that are expected to be affected by BRAC.

The retail and service shops in Crystal City will certainly experience an economic fallout from the loss of so many neighbors.

"With fewer surrounding office tenants, it changes the demand for the dry cleaners and lunchtime restaurants," said Terry Holzheimer, head of the Arlington Economic Development department. "We will try to help them deal with the shock."

The loss of the defense agencies may also be a blow to the small contractors situated in Crystal City. The county will work with them to re-orient their businesses to attract new clients, Miles said.

"They now have to rework their marketing strategies," she added. "They have to organize themselves to go after different agencies."