• Small business: Vermont’s economic engine
    By Bruce Edwards
    STAFF WRITER | February 24,2013
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    Anthony Edwards/Staff Photo

    Kerrilee Knights, right, at Café Terra on Center Street in Rutland is one of many small business owners in the state who help drive the Vermont economy.
    Small businesses continue to fuel Vermont’s economy, though there were slightly fewer small businesses in the state in 2010, according to an annual report by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

    The Small Business Profile for the States and Territories reported 17,908 small businesses in Vermont in 2010 compared to 18,020 the previous year.

    “I would say that’s an area of concern,” said Darcy Carter, SBA Vermont’s district director.

    Carter said a contributing factor in the decline is related to demographics and an aging population. She also said the number of SBA loans has declined as well.

    “We have seen our overall loan volume actually kind of moderate a little bit downward, which we don’t think is really related to economic conditions as it is to the business population,” Carter said.

    In 2010, the SBA backed 372 loans totaling $70.6 million in Vermont. In 2011, that number declined to 307 loans totaling $60.2 million.

    Small businesses in the state employed 157,720 people in 2010, most of them employed by firms that had 20 to 499 workers.

    The SBA defines a small business as one that has fewer than 500 employees.

    The number of self-employed Vermonters declined from 60,250 in 2009 to 59,945 in 2010. Since 2000, however, the number of people working for themselves has grown 17 percent.

    “The concern I would have for some of these folks — I don’t know how profitable they really are,” Carter said.

    She said a way for the self-employed to improve their financial situation is to expand their business to the point where they add workers. Carter said many who are self-employed provide a service. She also said there is a tendency among some self-employed Vermonters to be cautious.

    Low- and moderate-income Vermonters can get help starting or expanding a business from the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.

    It’s a segment of the population that often faces challenges, from being a single parent to being under employed, said Simeon Geigel, a business development specialist with the agency’s micro-business development program.

    One the biggest hurdles for his clients is coming up with the money to start their own business.

    Geigel said he’s seen fewer people coming in looking to loans “and that’s resulted in more people bootstrapping their business.”

    “For my entire period of time I’ve been with the program, and I’ve been with the program 13 years, it’s always been difficult for people to access financing,” he said.

    Community Capital of Vermont and Opportunities Credit Union are two sources that have been helpful in providing financing for low and moderate income entrepreneurs Geigel said.

    He said helping low- and moderate-income Vermonters start their own business is particularly important in a down economy, where jobs are scarce.

    In 2012, the Champlain Valley micro-business program counted 99 new businesses start ups or expansions, retained 62 jobs and created the equivalent of 88 full-time jobs, and helped entrepreneurs access capital totaling $873,353.

    A small-business category that has experienced a healthy increase over the years is woman-owned businesses. According to the SBA, about 19,000 Vermont women were self-employed in 2011, a 12.4 percent increase over the previous year.

    One of those entrepreneurs is Nilda Kerr of Kerr Advertising in Montpelier.

    “I think women are doing really well in being entrepreneurs, and from my understanding there are quite a few more women starting businesses than men,” said Kerr, who is president of the 300-member Women Business Owners Network

    Laura Lind-Blum of the Vermont Women’s Business Center said women go into business on their own because they can’t find a job that fits their skill set. Women also may be looking for flexibility in their work schedule to accommodate children or an elder parent, she said.

    Retail, health and professional services and media consulting are among the occupations women gravitate to as entrepreneurs, Lind-Blum said.

    Vermont companies with 500 or more workers totaled 688 in 2010, a slight increase from 2009 when the number totaled 675 firms.

    The 77,853 small businesses and self-employed) people in the state in 2010 accounted for 96.3 percent of all companies, employing 59.7 percent of the state’s private-sector labor force, the SBA reported.

    Nationwide, 27.8 million small businesses represent 99.7 percent of all companies, employing nearly half of the private-sector labor force.

    In a statement that accompanied the report, Winslow Sargeant, chief counsel for advocacy for the SBA, said “most of the country’s small businesses continue to be very small, having fewer than 20 employees, but they paint a big picture of a recovering America.”

    Highlights of the Vermont small-business profile include:

    Economy: In 2011, real gross state product increased 2.5 percent and private-sector employment increased 1.4 percent.

    Unemployment: The percentage of unemployed in 2011 was 5.6 percent, a decline of 0.8 percent from the previous year.

    Employment: Between 2007-2010 small businesses had a net job loss.

    Small businesses: Firms employed 157,720 workers in 2010, with most employment coming from firms with 20 to 499 employees.

    Size: Most of the state’s small businesses are very small with 76.3 percent sole proprietorships with no employees. Most employers have fewer than 20 employees.

    New businesses: In 2011, the number of businesses going out of business outpaced the number of new business start ups, resulting in a negative change in net employment.

    Self-employment: The number of self-employed increased over the last decade by 3.1 percent.

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