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Small businesses give unemployment relief
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- In good times and in bad, those trying to gain employment in Mississippi have an ally in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
The state had a 7.2 percent unemployment rate in July. That figure in recent years has hovered between 5 and 6 percent, but the national recession is being felt statewide. Some large companies have shut down, and many other businesses have laid off workers in an effort to curb expenses and remain profitable.
Those who find themselves with a pink slip or trying to enter the tight job market may think there is no chance of employment. While some get discouraged, others look at their own skills and consider what product or service they can provide that does not already exist.
Entrepreneurs are willing to take risks to create a business of their own. When these new businesses employ five or fewer people, they are known as microenterprises. Mississippi has an abundance of these businesses in addition to the somewhat larger small businesses.
Beth Duncan, small business specialist with MSU's Extension Service, said small businesses are a source of employment and job creation in tough economic times. They form the backbone of rural America, accounting for about 80 percent of all businesses in the United States.
"Any economic development strategy needs both industry recruitment and small businesses development," Duncan said. "Most economic developers concentrate on large industry recruitment and neglect entrepreneurism, but collectively, small businesses can be a tremendous benefit to a local economy."
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy, half the non-farm employment in Mississippi stems from small firms with 500 or fewer employees and almost 97 percent of all the state's businesses are small businesses.
The SBA found the number of small businesses in Mississippi increased by 0.2 percent in 2002, and the number of self-employed people increased by 8.3 percent. Women and minority entrepreneurs are significant participants in the state's economy.
MSU's Extension Service, through its Department of Enterprise and Community Resource Development, has a range of programs that encourage small business growth and entrepreneurial efforts. These include business start-up, business retention and expansion, issue framing for constructive problem-solving, building sound economic development strategies, e-commerce, finances, business feasibility studies, marketing and human resource management.
Chance McDavid, Extension associate with Community Resource Development, said communities must be engaged in improving themselves.
"A healthy, vibrant community depends on the will of the community to bring about positive change," McDavid said. "Through things like asset mapping workshops, we help create an entrepreneurial atmosphere in the community, nurture the entrepreneurial spirit that exists and help people achieve their dream of starting their own business."
The Extension Service has partnered with the Pew Partnership for Civic Change to provide LeadershipPlenty training in communities across the state. McDavid said there is no shortage of leaders in Mississippi, but communities often overlook the locals who are committed to their own hometowns.
"LeadershipPlenty is designed to seek out and train those silent leaders in the community. The goal is to make positive community change by working with like-minded citizens who want to make a real impact in their hometown," McDavid said.
The Extension Service's Food & Fiber Center is offering four e-commerce workshops in October to educate small-business owners and those thinking of starting a business on how to use the Internet to sell goods and services. Sessions will be held Oct. 21 at the Bolivar County Extension office in Cleveland, Oct. 28 at the Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Raymond, Oct. 29 at the D'Iberville Civic Center, and Nov. 6 in Verona at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center.
More information on Extension Service assistance to small businesses and communities can be obtained by contacting the local county Extension office.