Summit County’s small businesses search for a support system
At the end of April, a survey came out ranking Colorado as one of the most supportive states of small businesses in the nation. The state earned a grade of ‘A’ overall from small business owners, up from a ‘B+’ in 2012. Colorado’s highest-rated areas included quality and availability of training and networking programs as well as online business resources. Both Denver and Colorado Springs earned high ratings as well.
Summit County is an area with a high number of small businesses, with more starting up all the time. While the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of the county may match those of larger municipalities, small business owners say Summit’s support network is a work in progress. There are resources currently available for small business owners in Summit County, but many entrepreneurs may not be aware of what they are or how best to find them. Fortunately, organizations around the state and the county are coming together to offer more services and make the current services more readily available.
“We’re an extreme example of an area dominated by small business,” said Susan Fairweather, director of economic development, marketing and communications for the town of Dillon. She emphasized how the location of Summit County in the mountains tends to draw a specific kind of person, someone generally more creative and willing to take risks, like starting up a business rather than working for one.
“The folks who choose to move up here, … they’re the pioneers, they’re the youthful, healthy, they want the lifestyle. They aren’t necessarily the folks that are content with status quo,” she said, adding that Summit County is the only region in the state in which “creative industries” is counted as one of the top three industries.
People are drawn to Colorado, specifically Summit County, and when they get here many want to start a business, Fairweather said. “There’s a lot of risk when someone’s willing to open a small business, but we have the right combination.”
Just opening a small business doesn’t always guarantee success, however. While businesses opening in larger cities like Denver or Colorado Springs might have immediate access to myriad resources like state programs and networking events, the same might not seem as accessible for Summit County.
“That’s very different from here,” said Lindsey Stapay, director of the Northwest Small Business Development Center (NW SBDC), about the larger municipalities compared to Summit County. In Denver, “it’s amazing, it’s like every single day of the week, you could find some kind of outlet to a business resource,” whereas in Summit County “you’re talking maybe one a month, maybe two a month, you really have to seek them out.”
That’s something that Stapay and her peers are working to change, however. Stapay plans to work with other organizations throughout the county, including town governments and the chamber of commerce, to create more networking and informational events designed to help local small business owners.
Drawing on her own experience as a small business owner in the county for six years, Stapay said that while there are resources available, they require effort to find.
“It’s one of those things that you actively have to seek out, whereas in some of the larger municipalities, those types of things almost come to you more readily, and they’re around you more easily, they’re more accessible, whereas here you have to go out of your way to seek those things. Which isn’t a bad thing,” she added. “It’s your business, you need to participate actively in your business, you can’t be a bystander.”
The availability and easy accessibility of this information is something that Stapay, Fairweather and others are working to increase. One way they’re doing it is by teaming together rather than planning events and marketing separately. A prime example is the Business Resource Event which took place at the end of April. The event gathered representatives from organizations and groups that work closely with small businesses — the Summit Independent Business Alliance, town governments, the Summit Chamber of Commerce, the Breckenridge Resort Chamber, Colorado Mountain College, Small Business Administration, Colorado Workforce and NW Colorado Council of Governments, among others — to sit down and speak one-on-one with small business owners to answer questions and offer ways in which they could help.
“I was rather pleased with the number of resources that are out there,” said Brenda Bolei, general manager of Smith Roofing, LLC, a 3-month-old business in Silverthorne. “I thought that was definitely a good starting point.”
The main challenge in assisting local small businesses, according to Stapay and Fairweather, is communication. Resources are available, for both potential and current small business owners, but they don’t always know about it, or where to go for more information.
“I think that people get very, very busy in their lives, they get very, very wrapped up in what they’re doing day to day, so wrapped up that it’s hard for them to lift their head up to see other resources that might make their business easier,” Fairweather said.
Jennifer Goldstein, membership director of the Breckenridge Resort Chamber, agreed that communication can be difficult.
“While I’d love to think everybody is aware of all the resources that are offered to small or new businesses, we certainly realize that business owners are incredibly busy and often don’t have business resources at top of mind,” she wrote in an email. “That’s why we can never communicate enough and are constantly making an effort to get the word out on member benefits, whether it’s through social media, newsletters or advertising. When business owners are ready, the information is all here, on our website or a phone call away.”
Both Fairweather and Stapay emphasized that not only is help available, but more is planned for the future.
“We’re all working together to help small businesses,” Fairweather said.
In addition to utilizing local and statewide resources, such as grants, business development training, networking and conference events, it’s important for businesses to be active and forward-thinking in their planning as well, said Fairweather.
“We’re not talking handouts here, we’re talking about making resources available,” she said. Small business owners should have carefully thought-out business plans, do research on all aspects, from location to market to client base.
Most of all, Fairweather recommends small business owners build relationships within their community and with their community leaders.
“Relationships are everything, so what you want to do, as a new business owner or potential new business owner, you want to create a relationship with someone in your town who can help you walk through being successful, getting things started. I’m one of those people in Dillon, and each town has that person,” she said.
Fairweather and Stapay said they are looking forward to further expanding options and possibilities for small business owners in Summit County.
“These are creative entrepreneurial type spirits that live here,” Fairweather said. “They are folks that are willing to take a risk and believe in themselves.”
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