The town of South Boston and its SoBo Start-Up business incentive program got a dose of positive publicity last month when Destination Downtown South Boston Executive Director Tamyra Vest detailed the program at the 2019 Main Street Now Conference in Seattle, Washington.
Vest repeated her presentation before South Boston Town Council at its monthly meeting on Monday indicating to council the presentation was well received by conference attendees.
At the conference, Vest described South Boston as a rural community in Southside Virginia that had lost jobs with the loss of textile and tobacco industries but is transforming itself with the help of the SoBo Start-Up program.
Residents responded to a survey listing the type of businesses they want in South Boston, including bakeries, restaurants, coffee shops, sandwich shops and ladies’ and men’s clothing shops, Vest said Monday.
An event designed to gauge interest in the business Start-Up program attracted 33 people, with 25 businesses taking part in a class designed to teach the fundamentals of business development, Vest said at the conference.
Eighteen businesses competed for Start-Up funds, with six winning various amounts, four of them winning $10,000 apiece, one awarded $7,500, and one awarded $5,000.
The town received a $25,000 grant for building improvements associated with the Start-Up program and an additional $3,882 for an ongoing façade improvement program, Vest told council.
A total of 15 full time jobs, 14 part-time jobs and 10 “spin-off” jobs were created as a result of the SoBo Start-Up program, according to Vest, whose focus now is on assisting both old and new businesses in the downtown corridor.
“We have decided that we put all this effort into recruitment, and we’re going to switch over and put as much effort into retention, not just SoBo Start-Ups but all businesses,” said Vest.
The SoBo Keep Entrepreneurs Program started March 19 and lasts for four weeks, with guest speakers presenting information for marketing a small business, how a small business can keep positive momentum moving forward, understanding small business financials and understanding the role of credit in a business.
The town has received $15,000 in grant money for the SoBo Keep Entrepreneurs program, $25,000 in grant money for a brewery feasibility study, $6,000 for mentor network development and $1,000 in grant money for National Main Street Conference scholarships.
Monthly merchant round table meetings for downtown merchants also are underway, with a number of merchants taking part so far, according to Vest.
Media development, website development and other needs earmarked for individual business development may be funded through small mini-grants, Vest explained.
Vest indicated to council she would like to initiate another SoBo Start-Up program but noted additional space downtown and additional money are both required.
“The energy created by these new businesses has been phenomenal,” Town Manager Tom Raab told council, resulting in an increase in foot traffic.
Vest added business owners have told her, “It’s the best thing ya’ll ever done. It’s changed the face of downtown.”