Chamber leads the way for entrepreneurs

Did you know that in America most new jobs come from small businesses? And, perhaps more than any other chamber in southeastern United States, the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce is the true champion for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

I say this because the spirit of enterprise is woven throughout the fabric of our organization. Our founders, our leaders, our volunteers and the vast majority of our membership are successful entrepreneurs and small business owners. So when it comes to assisting small business, we've always offered less talk and more action.

That's why the Gwinnett Chamber is launching a bold new initiative to enhance Gwinnett County's reputation as one of the best communities and environments in Georgia for entrepreneurs and small businesses. The initiative will bring recognition from the Georgia Department of Economic Development as an "entrepreneurial-friendly community."

The need for assisting entrepreneurs in Gwinnett has never been greater. Our research shows that nearly 90 percent of the businesses in Gwinnett have less than 10 employees and thousands of new home-based businesses are being formed annually. These businesses also provide about 75 percent of net new jobs. Together, we as a community must do everything we can to make entrepreneurial dreams a reality.

However, as any entrepreneur will tell you, starting and growing a company in those first critical years is no easy task. According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Georgia's small business closure rate is above the national average, and our state ranks 23rd in the National Small Business Survival Guide. The goal of the "entrepreneurial-friendly community" initiative is to increase the rate of small business start-ups and drive down the small-business-closure rate to below the national average.

Over the next few months, our economic development team will work to enhance awareness of the importance of including entrepreneurs and small business development in our local economic development strategies and create a culture of sustainable, effective programs that support and encourage home-grown business development.

To do this, we've teamed up with identified entrepreneurs and representatives from businesses providing core services needed by entrepreneurs and small businesses, including the legal, finance and accounting, banking, insurance and human resource sectors. This team will identify local resources and obstacles for nurturing entrepreneurship and enterprise development.

Next, an effective and efficient means of connecting entrepreneurs with resources will be developed and identified gaps will be filled. This will include visiting and interviewing 250 Gwinnett entrepreneurs, strengthening relationships with existing state and federal resource providers, and mapping local assets.

And the Gwinnett Chamber is the perfect place to start. We are already one of the most respected chambers in the nation in terms of specialized programs for small business. The list is a long one: Small Business Academy, Small Business Development Seminars, Executive Roundtables, SCORE, the Small Business Resource Center, Small Business Person of the Year Awards, Business in Gwinnett Expo and more.

Securing this designation will be a great feather in our cap and an impressive first step. Our ultimate vision is for Gwinnett to formally develop a nationwide reputation as the best place for ideas, creativity, innovation, and commitment to be nurtured into thriving enterprises creating the highest quality jobs for tomorrow.

Jim Maran is the president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.