ASSETS Lancaster

ASSETS Lancaster

Walking around the city, it’s astounding how many small businesses are here, in glass-windowed shops along the city’s main “royalty” streets (King, Queen, Prince, Duke), as well as down narrow alleys, in old city rowhomes, and in refurbished former warehouses and factories. Catering businesses, bookkeeping services, barber shops, flower shops, photography studios, internet marketing services, mechanics – just to name a few.

It’s even more astounding to think of the number of additional small businesses that are being run out of the home offices people have set up in a spare bedroom, a corner of the dining room, the basement, or the legendary garage. On our block alone, I know six people who have their own businesses that they run out of home offices. I even know one small business owner here in Lancaster who often works from his front porch.

An organization called ASSETS – Lancaster has been instrumental in helping over 1200 entrepreneurs in the city and around the county get their businesses up and running over the past 18 years. I had a chance to meet with Jessica King, the President of ASSETS, to learn more about what they do.

ASSETS was started in 1993 to serve underserved entrepreneurs, especially women and minorities, by providing essential resources to successfully start, manage and grow their businesses. The name is actually an acronym: A Service for Self-Employment Training and Success.

ASSETS Lancaster clients have started over 300 businesses and created more than 500 jobs. In the first six months of 2011, ASSETS Lancaster assisted 39 businesses to start or grow in Lancaster County, which created/retained over 50 jobs. And there are ASSETS offices in other places around the US. ASSETS was started by Mennonite Economic Development Associates, founded on the belief that “the health of our communities is dependent on the success of small businesses and the support of entrepreneurs.”

A new report from the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, titled “The Power of One in Three: Creating Opportunities for All Americans to Bounce Back” highlights how essential small businesses and entrepreneurs are to the US economy. The report offers these facts:
• At the end of 2010, 14.8 million Americans (9.6% of the US population) were unemployed, and nearly 11% of them had been looking for work for 2 years or more.
• Over 40 million people in the US live at or below the poverty line, for whom self-employment is likely to be their most viable economic option.
• Last year, more Americans became entrepreneurs than any time in the last 15 years.
• 80% of the businesses in the US are “microbusinesses” (very small businesses)
• “If just one in three Main Street businesses hired one employee, then the US would be at full employment.”

But the report also highlights the barriers that prevent entrepreneurs from successfully starting or growing their businesses.

This is where organizations like ASSETS Lancaster come in. ASSETS offers a 10-week Business Design and Management course in both English and Spanish. Through the course, participants create a comprehensive business plan, and learn how to start, capitalize, manage and market their product or service.

ASSETS also has mentoring and counseling services for graduates of the course, and they have a business incubator set up to offer startup businesses affordable office space, access to technology and meeting rooms, and on-site counseling and support as they get started. Jessica King is an entrepreneur herself. Before moving to Lancaster, she lived in Pittsburgh, where she started up several social enterprise businesses (more on social enterprise in an upcoming blog post!), as well as a small business of her own.

As for future directions for ASSETS, Jessica told me they’re working on a number of collaborative projects, including looking at how to develop some social enterprise businesses here in Lancaster. They also hope to do more microlending, as many entrepreneurs can’t get small business loans from banks.

In fact, the “Power of One in Three” report says that “Last year alone, the major U.S. commercial banks turned down roughly one million applications for small business financing.”

Both Bruce and I know well the challenges of getting small businesses up and running. Bruce has been running his own business for about six years now, and I’ve been running mine for five. We’ve also experienced the often greater challenges of keeping those businesses afloat and growing.

According to the “Power of One in Three” report, growing small businesses is likely to be the key to turning the economy around. They point out that “A $5K increase in revenues per microbusiness per year would generate more than $20B. That’s less than $500 in additional sales per month per business.”

Meeting and talking with Jessica King and learning about the work of ASSETS made me realize how essential it is to have an organization like ASSETS to support small business owners both to get started and to grow. As the “Power of One in Three” report says, “If the economy is going to bounce back, it must happen on Main Street.”

But part of that equation is for all of us to support those small businesses by buying their products and services. Doing your buying from local small businesses can have a major impact on the sustainability of your community. In that spirit, I’m off toEastern Market this morning to buy fruits and veggies and some delicious prepared foods (and, okay, maybe a baked goodie or two) from a few small entrepreneurial farmers and start-up bakeries and caterers who are working hard to grow their businesses.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing more about social entrepreneurs and social enterprise, along with my other regular topics of sustainability, restorative justice, and community engagement. I post new articles on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. So if you’d like to stay informed about other great initiatives to make a positive difference in our community and around the world, please SUBSCRIBE or FOLLOW my blog (links on the right). And please help spread the word using LIKE or SEND buttons below. Thanks!


What small local business can you support today by buying their products or services, or spreading the word to others about their business?

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: city life lancaster pa sustainability entrepreneurs social enterprise

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