Retirees to help chamber

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- Aspiring and existing area business owners looking for guidance in what is an increasingly distressing economic climate will soon be able to rely on the wisdom of experience in their entrepreneurial endeavors.

The Albany Area Chamber of Commerce is partnering with the Herndon, Va.-based Service Corps of Retired Executives to launch a SCORE chapter here. The nonprofit organization, which is a partner resource with the U.S. Small Business Administration, relies on retired business leaders to serve as counselors and mentors for aspiring and established business owners.

The chamber hosted a luncheon for invited area business men and women Wednesday to introduce them to the concept. Among those attending were Al Worthington and Ralph King, who are key members of the Columbus SCORE chapter.

"Our branch will kind of operate under their wing while we're getting started," Leland Burkart, the chamber's volunteer chairman of military affairs and the volunteer coordinator of the local SCORE chapter, told guests at Wednesday's noon luncheon. "These guys are going to provide information that we don't have yet."

Formed in 1964 as an SBA partner, SCORE has 12,400 certified volunteers across the nation who are part of 360 chapters. These volunteers have surpassed one million hours in service and deliver an average of 501,000 services annually.

"The economy is the worst it's been in several decades," Worthington, the Columbus SCORE chapter chairman, said. "People need these services now more than they ever have. We've always been needed, but not as much as I think we're needed today."

Burkart and Chamber President/CEO Catherine Glover are looking for area business volunteers to be a part of the Albany SCORE branch. In addition to Burkart, three local business leaders have already completed necessary paperwork to become certified.

Once the branch is established, officials have set an Oct. 1 target launch date to start offering SCORE's free services to area businesses.

"We've met with the (local) Small Business Development Center, with the city and with our local colleges to discuss the program," Glover said. "They'll spread the word, and we'll launch a comprehensive marketing campaign as we get nearer to our target date."

Potential SCORE volunteers are expected to have at least 10 years of management experience, have the ability to communicate effectively and are asked to commit at least 10 hours a month to the program. They'll help by offering business mentoring, workshop instruction, serve as ambassadors for the program and offer specific skill expertise in areas of need.

"Once our branch is established, we work with clients by appointment only," Burkart said. "But there is no money involved; we don't loan money."

Glover said the minimal costs of establishing the local SCORE chapter will be provided by the chamber.

"It's a very small budget, literally a few hundred dollars a year," she said.

Young business owners/professionals Judy Randle (Central Monitoring), Daaiyah Salaam (the Southwest Georgia Project), Hayes Cook (Lighting & Flooring Inc.) and Mark Price (Edward Jones) attended the meeting to learn about the benefits of SCORE.

"I think this is an excellent idea," Cook said. "Being a younger business person, it's easier to get off target. Being able to walk into something like this that's tailor-made for small businesses ... what an advantage."

Glover said the chamber's decision to help establish a local SCORE chapter came after an evaluation of assessment surveys completed by the organization's more than 1,200 member businesses.

"The surveys that we conducted showed this to be a time of great entrepreneurial growth and need," the chamber president said. "And our research showed that one of the greatest needs among small business and nonprofit start-ups is counseling-related services.

"We haven't publicly promoted the project yet, but our assessment surveys indicate that our members see a great need for the services SCORE provides."

Persons interested in volunteering with the local SCORE chapter may contact Burkart or Glover at the chamber.