Make 2022 the year you start your business

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Tracy Hutchins is the executive director of the Upper Valley Business Alliance.

For the Haute Vallée Business Alliance

As 2022 kicks off, I reflect on the past year for our businesses in the Upper Valley. Despite the ongoing pandemic, 2021 has been a surprisingly good year for many companies. The New Hampshire and Vermont economy remains strong, and many members of the Upper Valley Business Alliance reported a strong year.

That’s not to say there weren’t issues affecting our businesses.

Staffing is a challenge for almost every business, followed by housing, child care (which affects staffing) and supply chain delays and/or shortages.

It is clear that the pandemic has brought to light problems that had been accumulating for many years before the pandemic and which became critical during the emergency. However, overall, many businesses that suffered debilitating losses in 2020 were able to recover.

Times of emergency also seem to stimulate entrepreneurship and innovation. We have seen a large number of new businesses open locally, statewide and nationally in 2021. In fact, according to the Yelp Economic Average report published in October 2021, the number of new businesses opened in 2021 exceeded pre-pandemic levels in 2019. According to the US Census Bureau, New Hampshire saw a 10.6% increase in new business start-ups in 2021 compared to 2020, and Vermont saw 16.4 % of new business creations, against an average of 8.3% nationally.

Go back to 2019, before the pandemic, and the North East and the United States only saw a 4.5% increase in new business start-ups between 2018 and 2019.

Why would anyone want to start a business during such a difficult time?

First, many people reevaluate their personal goals. You may have heard of the “Great Quit” as workers quit their current jobs in unprecedented numbers. Many take the leap to start their own business and choose to work for themselves.

Second, the federal relief programs that were in place in 2020 gave those laid off from their jobs extra money that they use to fund their start-ups.

And finally, many new state and federal programs have been introduced to help support businesses during the pandemic, some of which may also help new business owners.

The Haute Vallée has seen several new businesses start up in 2021 and already many are planning to open in 2022.

If you are considering starting a business and have decided that this will be the year, there are many resources that can help you.

Small Business Development Center: Located in each state as a sub-unit of the Small Business Administration, the SBDC provides free business counseling to new and existing businesses. SBDC advisors can help entrepreneurs create a business plan, marketing plans, and help find financing. In Vermont: vtsbdc.org. New Hampshire: nhsbdc.org.

Center for Women and Enterprise: The CWE is similar to the SBDC but focuses on supporting women entrepreneurs. The CWE offers advice, support, courses and resources specific to women starting small businesses. Information: cweonline.org

Veterans Affairs Awareness Center (VBOC) Program: Also a sub-entity of the SBA, the VBOC program provides resources and business assistance to veterans, whether starting or existing businesses. Information: VBOCNewEngland.org.

The above programs are all state or regional arms of national programs through the Small Business Administration. However, there are also several organizations in the Upper Valley that provide assistance to entrepreneurs.

Grafton Regional Development Corporation (Grafton County, NH) and the Green Mountain Economic Development Corporation (Vermont) both offer financing, advice, courses and training opportunities. Information: www.graftonrdc.org and gmedc.com.

River Valley Community College Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program: RVCC offers courses, workshops, mastermind groups, and other resources to help entrepreneurs and innovators get their business off the ground. Information: rivervalley.edu.

Upper Valley Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE): SCORE mentors offer advice and workshops to entrepreneurs on a one-to-one basis. Mentors come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and can provide real-life experience for new business owners. Information: uppervalley.score.org.

With all of these organizations, a new entrepreneur may find it difficult to decide where to start or which organization is best for them. Here’s where I would urge a new business owner to do: Contact your local Chamber of Commerce, such as the Upper Valley Business Alliance, Hartford Area Chamber of Commerce, or Woodstock Chamber of Commerce.

Chambers of Commerce can help you with “on the ground” knowledge of the programs and point you in the right direction. Our local chambers all have in-depth knowledge of locating a business in our Upper Valley towns and make referrals for the services you will need as a business, such as banking, insurance, taxes and supplies. The chambers also offer many programs and workshops and networking opportunities.

If 2022 is your year to fulfill your dream of starting your business, there are plenty of organizations out there to help.

Tracy Hutchins is the executive director of the Upper Valley Business Alliance.

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