Business Friendly

Published 5:00 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2023

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AHOSKIE – Small business owners and chambers of commerce have a friend in Elaine Marshall.

Marshall, who has served as North Carolina’s Secretary of State since 1997 when she became the first-ever female elected to a statewide Executive Branch office, is a former teacher and small business owner as well as an attorney.

During her term as Secretary of State, Marshall has seen more than 1.8 million new businesses formed. She has pioneered E-commerce government and protected investors and intellectual property owners.

Marshall spoke of her long love affair with small businesses last week when she served as the featured guest at the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce’s 77th annual banquet.

The event was held at the Ahoskie Inn where Marshall shared her excitement over a recent spike in the number of new businesses across the state.

“The Secretary’s main purpose is to facilitate economic development; we facilitate the flow of capital and some consumer protection,” she said. “Business starts with us.”

She praised the efforts of the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce for being the “foundation of business” in the town for nearly 90 years (the Chamber was founded in 1936).

North Carolina’s Secretary of State Elaine Marshall delivers remarks at last week’s Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce Banquet. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

Marshall spoke about the development of a new program within her office. Rural RISE NC (Resources for Innovators, Start-ups, and Entrepreneurs) was launched in 2022. The program began with 14 pilot counties, one of which is Hertford County, and has now expanded to 26 counties. She noted why the program targets rural counties.

“I was raised on a family farm; I know what it’s like to feel like you’re neglected or thought of as a second-class citizen because of where you live,” Marshall remarked. “I know how you feel when the young people of your families leave to go get an education and don’t come back because of lack of jobs.”

She stressed a desire to stop the rural/urban divide and then “do something serious to close that divide.”

Within Rural RISE NC there are resource bulletins specific to each county. The program links rural business owners with mentors, counselors and funding sources.

“There are a lot of resources out there at the state and federal level to help new business start-ups,” Marshall said. “But what’s bad is that the folks who are starting these businesses are unaware that these resources are out there.”

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Marshall shared data showing the rise in new business start-ups (corporations, LLCs and non-profits) for the past two years. She there between 650 and 700 new businesses make applications / fill out paperwork with her office every day.

In 2022, Hertford County was home to 165 new business creations, Marshall said.

“You’ve more than tripled that number in three years as in 2019 there were only 51,” she noted.

“The Secretary of State’s office is literally the front door for new businesses entering North Carolina’s entrepreneurial eco-system,” Marshall continued. “Our entrepreneurial spirit is why this state’s economy has recently been ranked number one in the country. But we know we have more work to do because that wealth and advantage isn’t widespread throughout the state.”

Marshall also emphasized the importance of her office following up annually with new business start-ups from previous years. A survey is sent to those businesses and the responses are closely studied in an effort to improve the services offered by the Secretary of State’s office.

“Two of the biggest things we wanted to know was where those new start-ups got their information about being a new business owner and what they wish they had known when starting their new business,” Marshall said of the survey.

She said that timing is everything in a new business start-up; having immediate information about available resources is vital to their success and longevity.

“The sad news from this survey is that folks starting new businesses did not know their local community college has a Small Business Center that does good work for free,” Marshall said. “Our community colleges are there to help.”

She added that when a new business is created in the state, they are connected to the RISE website and the county’s resource bulletin that gives them the names of local entities able to provide assistance, to include counselors and lenders.

“This checklist covers all the crucial steps that a new business owner needs,” Marshall stressed. “These businesses want to know who to turn to. Business counseling is a critical part of the process, which includes ‘back office’ functions such as accounting and bookkeeping.”

She linked new business creations with employment growth, saying that roughly 20 percent of them have two or more employees.

“Plus, new business is the dream that builds families and communities,” Marshall observed, “and the trend line is moderating for new businesses started by women and minorities.”

She closed by saying the Secretary of State’s office does all it can to extend the life of new businesses.

“This is crucial for this county’s and this state’s economy. It doesn’t help anyone when a business fails. We will continue to work, along with entities such as this Chamber of Commerce, to deliver these crucial resources to new businesses,” Marshall said.

Andy Wilson, president of the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, presided over the banquet, along with Connie P. Poland, the Chamber’s current Executive Vice President.

The event included the presentation of several awards. Nancy Freeman (2021) and Robin Bland (2022) received the Past Presidents Award. Amy Braswell, recently retired as the Ahoskie Chamber’s Executive Vice President, was honored with the Community Development Award. Longtime local businessman Robert Earl Brinkley earned the 2023 Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Front Page Award.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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