“What we really want to do is leverage what we already do and get it out to more people,” said Dr. Ken Harmon, Kennesaw State’s provost and academic affairs vice president.
Take for example a Marietta resident who wants to copy his uncle’s successful Arkansas business here, said David Connell, CEO of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.
Questions that Mariettans may have are, “How do I get started? Where do I go? Who do I call?” Connell said. “There’s a lot of different sources of advice and counsel that doesn’t cost people a dime or a very minimum cost, and what we want to do is put an umbrella around that so if they get a call or we get a call we direct people to the right avenue to go.”
One such avenue is KSU’s Small Business Development Center, which helps entrepreneurs grow their business by providing free consulting and offering a variety of low-cost educational programs.
Another, housed at the Cobb Chamber, is SCORE, a nonprofit that brings in working and retired executives and business owners who donate their time as volunteer business counselors, providing confidential counseling and mentoring.
Harmon said it’s not just about helping the person who walks in the door and wants to start a brand new business. While that is an important part of job growth, equally critical is what he calls “Entrepreneurship 2.0.”
“Where I go to the Stage 2 growth where all of a sudden I’ve been in business now I need to start hiring people, I need to grow this business, I need capital,” Harmon said. “Just as many small businesses fail at Stage 2 as fail in the early stages, and so we help with that as well.”
Eventually Harmon and Connell want to see a physical location for people to go where their needs can be addressed in one place.
“We’d love to have a place — this is kind of a dream — where I can walk in the door and get expertise to help me with a financial plan, put a loan package together, connect to venture capitalists, maybe have some office space for incubation of small business, any number of things where it’s kind of a one stop shop for the most part, including the possibility of office space that could be used by the small businesses to be considered as a incubator,” Harmon said. “That’s what we’d eventually like to get to.”
There are a number of quality small business incubators around the country Connell is eyeing — from Virginia’s George Mason University to one in Portland, Oregon.
The goal is to have one of those in place before the end of the EDGE’s first five years.
“This is a five year plan,” Connell said. “We don’t have to get this done in six months. But we’ve started a journey to create something that’s very special in Cobb County.”
And while Kennesaw State has taken the lead, Harmon said he expects the county’s other institutions of higher learning, Southern Polytechnic State University, Life University and Chattahoochee Technical College, to participate.
EDGE, which stands for Economic Development for a Growing Economy, is county Chairman Tim Lee’s signature economic development initiative. By the end of the five-year term, EDGE is expected to have created 7,500 new jobs, increased payroll earnings and income by $420 million and $7,000 per capita in Cobb, reduced unemployment to 5.5 percent, increased the public school graduation rate by 4 percent and increased the number of college-bound students in Cobb by 7 percent.
“There are a lot of pieces that have to do with marketing Cobb,” Connell said.
“There are a lot of pieces that have to do with infrastructure, but the idea is that at the end of the day we create more jobs in Cobb County, and that’s done through small business success, it’s done through mid-tier business growth and success, there are a lot of things that come into play to create jobs, it’s not just out there recruiting companies.”
Connell said inquiries from new and veteran entrepreneurs should be directed to EDGE Executive Director Brooks Mathis at (770) 859-2358.