The Loudoun County government may soon rethink how it supports small businesses, pulling funds from the long-standing Mason Enterprise Center in Leesburg and setting up a new program based at the County Economic Development Department in Ashburn.
Last week, the department’s executive director, Buddy Rizer, suggested that the supervisory board use the funding the county is now sending to support the Mason Enterprise Center to instead hire two new positions in its small office. businesses, especially small minority-owned businesses.
“Our research indicates that minority-owned businesses have experienced increased risk associated with the pandemic, in part due to their smaller size, concentration in high-risk industries, and difficulties accessing capital.” , said Rizer. He proposed a new model with more emphasis on minority-owned businesses, education of small businesses and providing these services directly to those businesses and communities in the county.
And he said the Mason Enterprise Center was not serving those purposes, and that he and the Leesburg Economic Development Department were proposing to withdraw public funding.
âWhen the MEC was first envisioned a decade ago, it was proposed as an incubator with value-added services for the tenants of the center and for the community in general, but over time the MEC is become more of a coworking space taking advantage of the Leesburg HUB Zone, âsaid Rizer. âTen years ago, there were no real coworking facilities in Loudoun or Leesburg. Today there are 15 of these facilities across the county.
The county has entered into a two-year agreement paying $ 119,340 per year for the center. The HUBZone program was created to encourage the growth of small businesses in historically underutilized business zones by awarding at least 3% of federal contract dollars annually to HUBZone certified businesses. Companies based in the Mason Enterprise Center can join this program.
Economic development officials do not recommend withdrawing the $ 100,000 annually the county currently spends on the Small Business Development Center, which is also based inside the Mason Enterprise Center. According to the county report, the SBDC “delivers exceptional value to the businesses it serves” and was “an integral part” of the department’s work to help businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
And Rizer said within his department the money can be used to help businesses learn from the COVID-19 pandemic.
âIt was amazing to me when we were using the Small Business Interruption Fund how many of our small businesses couldn’t complete a basic spreadsheet or didn’t understand how to report profit and loss,â said Rizer. “Those kinds of things are teachable skills, and we have to be able to create these kinds of programs that allow people to learn those skills so that they can help themselves in the future.”
Leesburg city council is expected to discuss the Mason Enterprise Center at its meeting on Monday, December 22.