Spartanburg leaders search for “entrepreneurial ecosystem”

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Chamber hires Meagan Rethmeier to head small business development for EFG

 

Spartanburg County’s business landscape is dotted with high-profile projects.

Companies like BMW, Milliken, Michelin, Adidas, Toray, Rite Aid, Amazon and others have pumped billions of dollars of investment into the county and created thousands of jobs.

Spartanburg’s small business sector, however, has not fared so well.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of small ventures, or businesses with one to four employees, decreased almost 10 percent in the county between 2008 and 2013.

As of 2015, the number of individuals who were self-employed comprised 5.2 percent of Spartanburg’s employment, compared with 6.3 percent nationally, according to the agency’s data.

But local business leaders hope to alter that trend in order to stimulate greater economic prosperity through diversification and the creation of more high-paying jobs.

 

Diversification is key

 

“We realize we have to start diversifying our economic development,” said Allen Smith, president and CEO of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce. “This is about creating a long-term strategy that will benefit Spartanburg residents for generations to come.”

Smith said economic development is a “three-legged stool” that includes attracting new business, the expansion of existing business and entrepreneurship.

He said the need for improving the county’s entrepreneurial climate was identified by research through the community’s partnership with Atlanta-based Market Street Services, which is helping to develop the Spartanburg Vision Plan.

The firm has helped cities like Nashville, Austin and Tulsa chart a path to prosperity. It has already completed five phases of a six-phase assessment process that will help shape a community development strategy.

“I think the message there was we’ve done a fantastic job of attracting industry and serving existing companies, but we need to do a much better job of leveraging the resources we have to support entrepreneurism,” Smith said. “Take a company like Milliken, for example. That’s the kind of creative mindset that entrepreneurs feed off of. We want to take that passion and expand it.”

 

Shaping entrepreneurial programs

 

In order to prepare for the work ahead, Allen said the Spartanburg Chamber has hired Meagan Rethmeier to serve as the director of small business and entrepreneurial development for its Economic Futures Group (EFG), the county’s primary economic development entity.

Rethmeier, a native of Spartanburg, earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Wake Forest University.

She previously worked for BB&T in Winston-Salem N.C., where she served as the organizational change management lead.

“It was interesting coming from a financial background, because I saw how difficult it was for small businesses to find access to capital, which is one of the primary shortfalls [in Spartanburg] identified by Market Street’s assessment,” she said.

Rethmeier will be responsible for helping to shape and implement entrepreneurial programs for EFG, leading all activities of the Spartanburg Entrepreneurial Resource Network (SERN), and managing the day-to-day operations of the Spartanburg Angel Network (SAN).

 

Forming relationships

 

SERN is an alliance of several local organizations founded in 2013 with the singular purpose of pooling resources to help new and expanding entrepreneurial ventures succeed, create jobs and generate new investment. The group has been without a director for about two years.

The organizations involved in SERN include EFG, the Spartanburg Chamber, Service Corps of Retired Executives, Wofford College, the University of South Carolina-Upstate, Spartanburg Community College, City of Spartanburg and the S.C. Small Business Development Center.

SAN was formed in 2015 to provide funding for new startups. Rethmeier said the group has 34 investors.

“We want to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Rethmeier said. “A lot of the resources are already in place, but few people know what is available to them. It’s our job to change that.”

Rethmeier said in the coming months she plans to begin leading efforts to create a network for entrepreneurs.

The focus will be on forming relationships and helping small business owners gain access to financial, legal, conceptual, moral support and resources they need to be successful.

“Spartanburg is a market where people can still form relationships.” Rethmeier said. “It’s very personal. If an entrepreneur has an idea, they will find someone who can help make it happen.”

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