Chamber starts group to help small businesses

DULUTH - Unemployment continues to rise, budgets are strapped and most people would agree the country is in for a long, hard economic ride. And small business owners are not immune to this recession syndrome.

But help is available, and to offer some of that assistance the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and Duluth-based GiANT Impact launched the Metro Atlanta Council for Entrepreneurship this week.

The goals of the organization, said Gwinnett Chamber President and CEO Jim Maran, are to identify, enable and promote innovative, high-growth, high-impact companies and to foster and accelerate the area's entrepreneurial culture.

"Over the last few months there has been a lot of talk about economic stimulus and bailouts for larger institutions," Maran said. "While they may have their merits and place in solving slowing economic conditions, I personally believe the heroes that will really pull us out of this recession are our small business owners who employ the majority of our workers."

Because of this philosophy, the council is only open to entrepreneurs and small business owners with less than 250 employees and their leadership teams. What the council plans to do to aid small businesses is to offer monthly workshops at no cost to members while at the same time providing a Web portal - www.atlantaentrepreneurship.com - that offers a slew of advice and resources, from blogs and podcasts to white papers and recommended reading.

One fan of the new Chamber offering is Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

"This represents exactly the kind of thing our state's business community should be doing to help the jobs of tomorrow take root and grow in Georgia," Cagle said. "Every economist tells us that small and medium sized businesses will be a core component of ending the economic downturn and re-establishing a healthy pattern of job growth."

Most importantly, said GiANT Impact's President and CEO Jeremie Kubicek, the program has been designed for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs.

"We live under the premise that we create programs we would want to attend," Kubicek said. "This is a practical program for people who want to grow and have resources to implement that will truly impact their businesses."

The group's first event Wednesday featuring Kubicek as the featured speaker was a herculean success, said the Chamber's Vice President for Communications Demming Bass, so much so that they might need to find another venue for next month's speaker and workshop.

"The room was packed and the message was positive," Bass said. "We signed up 30 new members that day and there is nothing like this in the whole Atlanta region," he said. "It's taking off a lot faster than I thought."

The next featured speaker and workshop will take place Feb. 25 with David Woods, the CEO of GiANT Partners and former CEO of Ditch Witch.