EDA programs to help entrepreneurs
Hi, my name is Anna Bentson. I’m the Assistant Director of Economic Development for the City of Lynchburg. Today we’re going to talk about what is economic development and how does the Office of Economic Development support and grow businesses in this city. I’m going to start out just by doing a quick overview of the office and how we work, followed by our six areas of strategic focus, and then run through a couple of tools and resources that you can use in the City of Lynchburg.
So to get started, what is Economic Development? Economic Development is incredibly multifaceted. Essentially the definition of Economic Development is policies and programs that seek to sustain and improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community. We typically measure this in terms of jobs and income. How many employees a business may be hiring. Or what’s the tax revenue return to the City? But it can also include improvements in infrastructure, transportation, quality of life, talent development, and all of those things that make a city a great place to live or come play. So how do we do this locally?
Well our office is staffed by three full-time professionals that are employees of the City of Lynchburg. The three of us provide all of the Economic Development support for the City of Lynchburg. We are staffed to a board called the Economic Development Authority. This is a seven member group comprised of business professionals, owners, realtors, all different representatives of all types of businesses in the community. This seven member board really governs and decides incentive programs, business support services, and all of those things that we do to help Economic Development in this city.
So a little bit about Lynchburg: Lynchburg is a city of about 80,000 people. We’ve grown more than 15% since the 2000 Census, which is a great increase for cities of our size. About 70% of our workforce, those people who work in the City of Lynchburg, live outside the City of Lynchburg in surrounding counties, so they’re commuting into the city for jobs and employment. The median age in Lynchburg is only 30 years old, which is a really young city. That has to do with a lot of our local colleges and universities. 20% of our population is actually enrolled in a college or university. We are a young, vibrant community that is growing.
Now I’m going to talk about our six strategic areas of focus in Economic Development and run through each of these pretty quickly. The first area of focus is business attraction. This is what most people think Economic Development is. It’s marketing, and attracting businesses to relocate to the City of Lynchburg. This is only a small part of what we do because businesses just aren’t relocating the way the were doing 10, 20, or 30 years ago. So these are really our efforts to position Lynchburg as a great place for starting a business.
The big bulk of our work is in business retention and expansion. This is a critical area of growth. Most of the new jobs that are added in the community and the growth of businesses come from expanding and existing business. We do this by having a robust business visitation program. We’re in touch with our major employers on a regular basis, and we provide resources to support and retain those businesses in the city.
Infrastructure is everything from transportation, roads, airport, rail, AMTRAK service, to other things like broadband and fiber services as well. We really work in partnership with transportation advocacy groups across the community and across the state to make sure existing transportation, communication, and utility networks are adequate to serve the businesses that are located and growing in the city.
The fourth area is talent development. This is sometimes called workforce development. Really the people that live in your community, that are the employees of businesses, are a really key recruiting and retention tool for the City of Lynchburg. So, again, we work in partnership with organizations across the community, like our local colleges and universities, the Workforce Investment Board, and employers, to really create that pipeline of qualified workers for businesses in the City.
Entrepreneurship – a great growing area of focus for us. Entrepreneurship includes everything from developing and supporting an ecosystem that supports entrepreneurship, providing tools and resources for businesses to start and grow in the City of Lynchburg. Funding sources, mentoring and coaching and educational opportunities for businesses.
And finally our sixth area of strategic focus is economic empowerment. Economic Empowerment is a citizen’s ability to bring about economic change for him or herself. So we work closely with our community partners to make sure every citizen of Lynchburg has the opportunity to attain economic prosperity for himself. Whether starting a business or being employed in a business, we really want to make sure folks can achieve all of those things.
Now I really want to talk just a few minutes about tools for Economic Development. Our office manages a number of programs and initiatives that help businesses grow, start, and expand in the City of Lynchburg. They vary widely. We would always sit down with each new business or client and walk through all of these to determine which one is the most appropriate for you. So, we run an enterprise program which is a state program that provides cash grants for job creation and real property improvement. We have a revolving loan fund, which provides loans of up to $250,000 for businesses starting and growing in the City. We have a technology zone, we have a tourism zone. Both provide incentives and services for businesses in those fields. We support infrastructure and transportation improvements for businesses. We have a Brownfields Free Development program, and we have an arts and cultural district program. So really making sure we have tools and resources for all different types of business to create that great quality of life in our community.
A new initiative that we started this spring is Tech Hire. Tech Hire is a White House initiative. The City was designated a Tech Hire community in August 2015. The Department of Labor recently announced a grant competition that we have applied for, for $2.2 million with 14 local employers to develop a pipeline of workers for these businesses. So citizens of Lynchburg will enter accelerated learning programs and then paid apprentice programs for these employers. This is really a new approach to workforce and talent development, as well as a business retention and expansion tool for the community. Another program that we just started is CoStarters. CoStarters is a nine week entrepreneurial program designed to equip people to start or expand their business. It’s a cohort style, so you enter the program with about 15 other businesses that are about in the same place that you are, and you walk through tools and resources that you need to grow and sustain your business. We plan to run this program probably 2-3 times per year, and all of that information is available on our website.
And speaking of our website, opportunitylynchburg.com is really the one stop shop for information abotu all the programs and services that we offer. You can learn more about the City of Lynchburg, you can read our blog, or you can go through each of the initiatives and incentives that I talked about. Request a Meeting is one of the most prominent buttons on our webiste, and we hope that you’ll do that. Set up a meeting with us to sit down and discuss what resources and tools are right for you so we can help you grow your business in the City of Lynchburg.
About Anna Bentson
Anna is the Assistant Director of Economic Development for the City of Lynchburg. Anna’s responsibilities include providing staff assistance to the Lynchburg Economic Development Authority, managing communications for the Office of Economic Development, promoting new business development, and executing activities and initiatives that secure and retain commercial and industrial development in the City of Lynchburg. She is a graduate of the South Carolina Honors College at the University of South Carolina. Anna has been an active volunteer in a number of civic organizations, recently serving as president of the James River Council for the Arts and Humanities and on the Tourism Advisory Board. Anna also serves on the Young Professionals Advisory Committee for the International Economic Development Council.
|Date Added||June 30, 2016|