The city of Hinesville pulled out all the stops for the inaugural Mayor’s Small Business Conference, a 2½-hour event held filled with workshops, panels and networking opportunities designed to entice people to invest their business in Hinesville.
The theme of the conference, held May 20 at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center, was “Helping Small Business Improve the Bottom Line.”
Three workshops discussed different loan programs that are available, business courses and digital marketing.
The “Doing Business with the City” panel had representatives from Inspections, Downtown Development Authority, Business Licenses, and Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission go through a scenario with a fictional business looking to start in Hinesville. This allowed the audience to see who they would need to work with and what to expect at each step.
The audience next heard from a panel of businesses that are success stories, including Molly Maxine, Sylvan Learning Center of Savannah and Realty Executives Liberty. Panelists discussed how they were initially nervous about taking the leap into starting a business but that they were willing to take the risk.
They also emphasized patience, asking questions, networking with other business owners, and making sure your business plan is focused on several steps down the road, not just on the next step.
The keynote speaker was DeLisa Espada, owner of a Curves franchise and the president and CEO of Strategic Business Solutions. She also is a consultant with the city of Hinesville and Minority/Women Business Enterprises.
Several years ago, when she wanted to start a business in Liberty County, she said it was a daunting task.
“But I realized over the years it has become more simplified, the city has become more open with their information, (and) it is an easy process now,” Espada said. “You’re able to start these businesses here in Liberty County and help to become part of the economic development engine that keeps our community growing.”
Assistant City Manager Kenneth Howard was overwhelmed by the turnout and proud of the work put into making the conference happen.
“This was a conference that exceeded my expectations,” he said. “And what I’m hearing is that we should continue this, we need this, we need more of this, and that was the desired outcome of this (conference).”
The initial inspiration was from the mission of the Hinesville Development Authority, of which Howard is the executive director.
“One of the things we want to do is to incentivize and to help educate the small businesses in the community,” he said. “We realized that there was a void so far as connecting with small businesses.”
So city officials worked to bring together resources and departments invested in making small businesses thrive in Hinesville in a setting that allowed them to share their knowledge to aspiring and current business owners.
Julie Roshak of Liberty County is an aspiring business owner interested in wellness, gardens, organics and holistic medicine.
“(The conference) was helpful,” Roshak said. “For years and years and years I’ve had a lot of ideas, but the paperwork and the starting out. Some of the speakers were like ‘just go do it.’ That’s what I needed.”
As for going forward after the conference, “Well, I really just need to write a plan because that’s kind of what’s stopping me. All the money issues, the building, permits, all this stuff that they spoke about today.”
Because of the conference, Roshak has a better idea of what she wants to do and has the resources she needs to make it happen.
Another attendee, Crystal Ball, works for 5linx. She had high praise for the conference.
“We need to have it every year,” Ball said. “The biggest things (are) knowing what you have to do as a business, to obtain a business, to know what you have to do and the procedures you have to go through.”
Ball especially liked the keynote speaker and how she showed steps about starting a business, especially organization and strategic planning. She believes that Hinesville is a business-friendly city.
“I’ve been here for 20 years. I was in the military here and I retired here, and I think it is,” she said.