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WRAY: Our small businesses on display at forum

I am so looking forward to another great experience at this year’s ninth annual Mayor’s Small Business Conference on Wednesday, Sept. 30, in the Savannah Civic Center ballroom.

This year’s theme is Small Business, the Backbone of Our Economy, and organizers are expecting more than 250 members of the business community to attend.

The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. So if you have not already reserved your tickets, I recommend you do so now as last year’s event was sold out.

This is my third year being involved with this event. Rob Davis, Manny Dominguez and the entire team at the city of Savannah’s Economic Development Department have put in countless hours to make sure the annual gathering provides a real return on participation by local business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.

I love seeing so many of Savannah’s small-business owners in a single location. The energy and dedication in the room is electrifying.

This segment of Savannah’s economic engine is a bit different from the ones I engage with at The Creative Coast. These businesses are the more traditional brick-and-mortar companies providing products and services to the local community, whereas the majority of the early stage startup companies we mentor at The Creative Coast are focused on scalable ventures, i.e. products and services that can be marketed on a national and international basis.

The common thread is their commitment to being successful and their desire to make Savannah a better place to do business. The impact small businesses have on Savannah’s economy is real. In truth, these small businesses are the backbone of Savannah’s economy.

The agenda for the conference includes a number of key topics, including opening remarks by Mayor Edna Jackson, a Business Spotlight honoring Jennifer and Tim Strickland, owners of River Street Sweets along with a variety of workshops and a business roundtable discussion that always gets lively. Bob James, president of Carver State Bank, will deliver the keynote speech.

I particularly enjoy the keynote speech given by a local business owner. Each year I am inspired by their insights and advice. Previous keynote speakers who jump to my mind include Greg Parker, of Parker’s convenience stores, who described his organization’s intense focus on feedback loops and business metrics; and Jusak Yang Bernhard and Jeffrey Manley, co-owners of Tailspin, who spoke with heart and passion about pets, people, service and their business.

This year I look forward to Bob James’ keynote speech. He is currently wearing two hats as president of Carver State Bank, which is dedicated to minority and inner-city businesses and residents, and as chairman of Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA), which is almost a full-time job in itself.

James has an undergraduate degree from Morris Brown College and an MBA from Harvard University. More importantly, as Carver State Bank’s president, Bob has been the face of financing for inner-city businesses and residents for more than 40 years.

The conference also includes three workshops addressing hot topics for small-business owners: Branding Your Business led by Jennifer Abshire of Abshire Public Relations; Small Business Administration News presented by SBA official Terri Denison; and Small Business Assistance Corporation News hosted by Stephen George from SBAC.

In addition, there will be a roundtable discussion featuring local business owners as guest panelists: Davey James, managing partner and co-owner of Outback Steakhouse on Abercorn Street; Stephanie Lindley, CEO of family owned Byrd Cookie Company; Ian Nott, founder of Aetho, an innovative filmmaking tool for GoPro videographers; and Travis Sawyer, co-owner and founder of Creative Approach printing company on MLK. And yours truly will serve as moderator.

What’s a business event without a networking opportunity? The conference includes that, too, with a networking lunch followed by the keynote address and closing remarks by Mayor Jackson. By the way, both the lunch and a continental breakfast are free for attendees, courtesy of the city of Savannah.

If you are a small-business owner, you should be at this conference. After all, it’s your city and it’s your business. Registration closes at noon Friday, Sept. 25, so get moving. Go to www.savannahga.gov/businessconference to register online or contact the city of Savannah’s Economic Development Department at 912-651-3653.

See you there.

Bea Wray is the executive director of The Creative Coast, a not-for-profit organization that promotes the creative and entrepreneurial community within the region. Bea can be reached at 912-447-8457 or bea@thecreativecoast.org.

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