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Challenges for small biz
Access to capital remains an obstacle
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Statesboro Appliance Center owner-operator Dwayne Conner, center, juggles work and parts orders with employee Paige Lee, left, and daughter Ashley Monday at the local West Main Street business. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    Every year since 1963, the President has proclaimed National Small Business Week to recognize the contribution of small businesses to the well-being of America.
    The U. S. Small Business Administration estimates that there are 27.2 small businesses in this country, and that more than half of Americans either own or work for a small business.
    Facing a myriad of challenges in a troubled economy, local small business owners appreciate the recognition, but feel tough times still lie ahead. Russell Rosengart serves as chairman of the Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business committee.
    “As a business owner, I know how hard it is to run your business in the face of increasing regulation and a challenging economy,” said Rosengart, owner of 15 Sonic Drive-In restaurants. “I have a number of concerns, but the biggest is probably access to capital. It is so incredibly difficult to get a commercial loan today.”
    Rosengart is like many other small business owners with an interest in expansion and growth, but faced with limited options.
    “I have heard many speakers lately, experts in the fields of finance and entrepreneurship,” he said. “It is the same everywhere. Access to capital is virtually nonexistent.”
    Rosengart’s sentiments were echoed by Lori Durden, director of the Georgia Southern University Small Business Development Center. “Access to capital for the small business owner has always been a problem, but it is even more so now,” she said. “Besides the obvious outward effects of a recessionary economy, there is a morale problem.”
    Durden said constant “blasts” of negativity from the media are creating a sense of despair, particularly among business owners.
    “It is becoming increasingly hard for business owners to maintain their energy and passion for their work and their companies,” Durden said. “These individuals, live, sleep, and breathe what they do. They go to bed with it at night, and wake up with it in the morning. Right now, many of them aren’t sleeping, and negativity all around just makes it that much worse.”
    Statesboro Appliance owner Dwayne Conner has worked in the appliance repair business since 1971 when he went to work for his father. Conner bought his father out of the business several years ago and has been operating Statesboro Appliance on West Main Street since 1993.
    “The service end of our business has remained fairly busy,” Conner said. “The sales end has slowed down quite a bit. A lot of big box retailers are offering interest free and deferred payment deals, and we can’t compete with that. I am thankful that we have been as blessed as we have been.”
    Conner said he has not had to let go of any of his  employees which he feels will be very beneficial in the long run.
    “I have six employees, and they are very good, and well trained,” he said. “Thank goodness, we haven’t had to let anybody go. I really don’t want to lose good help, because I know that eventually things will turn around.”
    Conner said he is worried about the impact of legislation that is being passed. “I have no idea how the new health care regulations will affect us,” he said. “My worker’s compensation and liability insurance continue to increase, and now it sounds like we may face a tax increase of some sort. It becomes more and more difficult to make a living.”
    Small business owners bear a layer of responsibility for their employees that large corporations don’t necessarily seem to have which adds to their stress.
    “The folks that work for us are family,” Cathy Stackpole, co-owner of Southern Food Service Repair in Statesboro. “They are your friends. So when times get tough, it just makes running your business that much harder.”
    Stackpole said business owners are cutting back and becoming much more conservative. “As an example, if you take a restaurant that has five fryers and one breaks, in the past, they would have called immediately,” she said. “But now, they think, well, we will just operate on four and see how that goes this week. Owners are putting off repairs for as long as they possibly can, so of course, we are affected. But like everybody else, we are hanging in there.”
    Rosengart said he hopes that people will remember to support local businesses. “There is a shop local initiative that has been pretty successful,” he said. “I just want people to remember that you are supporting your neighbors and friends. You are keeping jobs here in Statesboro, and hopefully creating new ones.”