There are more than 30 million small businesses in the United States employing about 60 million people — or about half the workforce, according to Day Shelmire.

That’s one of the reasons why the federal government allocated so much money to go in and help support local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Imagine what would happen to a town like Carthage or Jefferson or these towns that really rely on their local small businesses to provide services and goods and services on a local level,” Shelmire said. “If they all went out of business, it’d be extremely painful.”

Shelmire, director of the UT Tyler-Longview SBDC, spoke recently to the Carthage Rotary Club about the SBDC’s mission and how entrepreneurs, small business owners and those thinking of starting a small business can take advantage of the SBDC’s free services.

The UT Tyler-Longview SBDC serves Panola, Rusk, Harrison, Marion, Gregg and Upshur Counties with permanent offices in Longview and Marshall, as well as offices in Jefferson, Carthage, Henderson and Gilmer. Their mission is simple: to “provide, at no cost, business advising and consulting services to entrepreneurs and small business owners in order to help local small businesses start, grow and thrive,” Shelmire said.

Funding for the SBDC comes from the Small Business Administration, the State of Texas and the SBDC’s host, which is now UT Tyler.

The Carthage office, which has been operational for a few weeks now, is open by appointment on Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call (903) 757-5857 or go to www.uttyler-longviewsbdc.org.

Shelmire encouraged people to take advantage of their local SBDC. Some corporate companies offer similar services but charge hourly rates of $300 and even up to $1,000. The SBDC is free.

The SBDC offers a lot of services, including working with people to develop business plans and financial projections — things they’ll need to get a bank loan — and other things like digital marketing advice or accounting guidance. They serve everyone from start-up entrepreneurs to small businesses with 500 or fewer employees.

The SBDC can also help small businesses become women-, minority- or veteran-owned certified and offers informational webinars for business owners.

Shelmire says the SBDC gets a lot of referrals from bankers.

“A lot of times the first stop for an entrepreneur is they go to their local banker,” he said. “Everybody thinks they need money to start a company. First thing you think of, I need $100,000...

“They usually walk into a bank, and we get a lot of referrals from bankers... Where’s your business plan? What are your projections? What is your credit score?”

Shelmire cited one success story: a Cambodian refugee who was able to open a doughnut shop with the SBDC’s help. They helped him develop a business plan, helped him improve his credit and got him where he needed to be to launch his business.

“Just because you know how to make doughnuts or just because you know how to fix air conditioners and you’re the best in town doesn’t mean you know how to run a business,” Shelmire said. “That’s where we come in. We’re a free resource to help people walk through the process.”

Shelmire said Bear Creek Smokehouse, in Marshall, was another SBDC success story.

“The facts show that if an entrepreneur/small business owner goes out and gets advice from an SBDC or a CPA or a lawyer... those businesses have a 30 percent higher success rate than businesses that try to go at it alone,” he said.

COVID-19 has been hard for small businesses, Shelmire said, but it’s also led to opportunities. He noted many restaurants have opened up new markets by offering curbside or delivery services.

Shelmire said the Paycheck Protection Program, which has provided emergency funds to small businesses affected by COVID-19, was hugely important.

“The surprising thing is, after the second round of PPP loans, there’s still almost $140 billion left in the fund,” he said. “There are a lot of businesses out there... I can’t imagine they didn’t know about it, but there were a lot of businesses that just didn’t take advantage of it, and that’s a real shame. A lot of those businesses are out of business and they’re out of business for a reason.”

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Reporter

Carthage native Meredith Shamburger has worked for the Panola Watchman since 2018. Before that, she worked at sister papers in Longview and Marshall; the Dallas Morning News; and The Daily Voice, a hyperlocal news company in Westchester County, New York.