Southwestern Community College: Small Business Support


“Look around you,” said Don Tomas, the President of Southwest Community College. “Our topography is up and down, vertical, not horizontal, so there’s not a lot of open space for manufacturing to come in and set up a factory that would add 100-150 jobs.”

Southwestern Community College (SCC) is located in Sylva, Jackson County in western North Carolina. The community college also serves Swain and Macon counties and the Qualla border.

If you haven’t been there yet, it’s in the mountains.

While you might not see new plants or industries in the mountains if you take a walk Main street in SylvaYou see small business after small business, like Baxley’s Chocolates and Innovation brewing.

“Small businesses are the driving force behind all of our local economies in this region,” said Thom Brooks, executive vice president of education and student services at SCC. “Here, to get 50 jobs, we might have to work with 25, 30, 40 companies, one or two jobs at a time.”

Much of the work to support these small businesses is done by the Small Business Center at SCC.

A Economic impact study of SCC noted that it has an annual economic impact of $104.1 million, including $18.4 million in operating expenses, $6.6 million in student expenses, and $76.3 million in employee benefits Alumni Impact.

When the study examined the impact of the Small Business Center, it was found:

SCC is also an important benefit for regional employers. In particular, the college adds highly skilled human capital to the regional workforce and provides training for local businesses at the Small Business Center. SCC’s Small Business Center is designed to increase the success of small businesses in the area. The center provides companies with quality support in the form of workshops, seminars, confidential advice, information resources and more. This in turn contributes to strengthening the regional labor market through the increased creation and preservation of jobs.

Make small businesses a priority

Tomas became President in July 2011 and initiated a strategic planning process. He knew from the first conversations he had with community organizations that SCC needed to support and highlight small businesses. It’s been a priority for SCC ever since, and you can see the impact in the numbers.

In 2012-13, SCC’s Small Business Center helped create 14 jobs, sustain 2 jobs and start 3 businesses.

From year to year these numbers began to increase. By 2016-17, the center helped create 241 jobs, sustain 69 jobs and start 27 businesses.

In 2019-20, with the outbreak of the pandemic, the center helped create 132 jobs, sustain more than 702 jobs and start 19 companies.

Overall, between 2012-13, when SCC decided to make small business a priority, and the pandemic, the center helped create 1,261 jobs, sustain more than 1,118 jobs and start a total of 195 businesses. During the same period, capital formation totaled $8.4 million, including loans, investments and other income that the center provided to small business owners.

Here is the current number of business starts:

Baxley’s Chocolates

Baxley’s Chocolates is located at 546 West Main Street in Sylva. It is one of the many small businesses that have partnered with SCC’s Small Business Center.

This father-daughter company is owned and operated by Steve Baxley and Lauren Baxley. Many of the recipes were inspired by Russell Baxley, Steve’s father and a food scientist who was working to incorporate peanuts into new foods. Before opening the shop, Steve and his wife Beth made chocolates in their kitchen for more than 25 years, which he said they gave away to family and friends. Beth is now vice president of the family business.

Baxley’s chocolates are handcrafted in tiny batches using quality ingredients.

Meet Steve Baxley, a Baxley’s Chocolates owner and chocolate maker.

Baxley’s Chocolates opened in 2015 and expanded to its current location in 2018. In late-night and weekend classes at SCC’s Small Business Center, Steve and Lauren learned how to create a business plan (and specifically, how to deal with the ebbs and flows of chocolate demand that come with holidays throughout the year ). how to market the business, how to sell the idea to investors, and how to develop three-year forecasts. Steve said they “learned everything there was to do with running a small business.”

While peanut butter meltaways and sugared plums are family favorites, locals told me to try the malted milk balls and the homemade, hand-cut, chocolate-covered marshmallows. And Steve said their hazelnut gianduja rivals those from Italy!

What makes SCC’s Small Business Center so successful?

This is Phil Maynor. He and his wife are walking Kim’s taste and sighta small business that offers pastries, sweets and catering says to Henry: “Thank you for all your help over the years.”

Meet Tiffany Henry.

Henry is him Economic Development Director for Jackson County, but she served as director of SCC’s Small Business Center from 2013 to 2021. She is also an SCC graduate and small business owner. Henry’s leadership was honored by the Small Business Center Network 2014 for Rookie of the Year, 2015 for Services and Collaboration, 2017 for Innovation, 2018 for State Director and 2019 for Impact.

As Henry looks back on her work with the center and the future role of small business centers across North Carolina, she offers these seven insights for community colleges that want to prioritize working with small businesses:

  1. The ability to support small business strategic planning is key to regional economic success.
  2. Servant leadership is important when it comes to supporting small businesses.
  3. Confidentiality is the top priority. Small businesses need to be able to trust you.
  4. It is difficult to strike a balance between being in the community, supporting small businesses and being able to lead the courses and operations of the center.
  5. It is important to understand regional resources and leverage small business partnerships.
  6. When it comes to long-term success, revenue diversification must be a priority for small businesses.
  7. And just know, Henry said, you can’t help people until they’re ready.

“The community college is such an important part of our economy,” Henry said. She would know. She experienced that as a student, as the director of SCC’s Small Business Center, and now as the county’s director of economic development.

Virtually every business in Jackson County is a small business, Henry said. “It’s the lifeblood of our economy.”

Mebane rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of EducationNC.


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