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Entrepreneurs and leaders help Virginia communities prosper

The Davis-Bourne Inn, a property with a rich history in the small town of Independence, Va., is the fulfillment of a desire to bring happiness and joy into people’s lives for its owner Taphne Volinskus.

It’s also a small business – and its success depends on Volinskus’ abilities in financial planning, business development, marketing, and labor management. 

“There’s so much more to operating a bed-and-breakfast and a restaurant than a love for people and cooking,” Volinskus says. “Being able to manage your finances and make smart business decisions is so important.”

   

Taphne Volinskus stands in front of the Davis-Bourne Inn. The Davis-Bourne Inn was built by Confederate Col. Alexander M. Davis in 1865, and over the years, it has been a private residence, county offices, and a bed-and-breakfast. Today, Taphne Volinskus operates the inn and the Journey's End Restaurant, a thriving small business that helps preserve the history of the property and contributes to the local economy.

As a participant in Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Entrepreneur Express program, Volinskus was able to fine-tune her management skills and develop connections with other small-business owners in the area. 

“Learning from people who had ‘been there, done that’ was so helpful. Having the chance to talk with other business owners and get their advice on the decisions I needed to make was the best part of the program for me,” Volinskus says.

Entrepreneur Express offers one-day workshops that cover topics such as starting and operating a business, developing a marketing strategy, learning to manage finances and assets, and becoming aware of the resources available to small-business owners. Workshop participants also choose more in-depth sessions on such topics as marketing and e-commerce, starting and operating a tourism venture, and discovering agribusiness opportunities.

Partners in success

Scott Tate, an Extension community viability specialist, helped pull together the partnership that created Entrepreneur Express. The core groups who developed the workshops are the Virginia Department of Business Assistance, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, the Virginia Small Business Development Center, and Virginia Cooperative Extension. To help provide the training, they rely on assistance from dozens of federal, state, and local organizations, including local governments, chambers of commerce, and the volunteer organization SCORE.

“Entrepreneur Express is an example of what Extension does best,” says Jim Riddell, interim assistant director for community viability. “Our Extension faculty saw a need to help business owners tap into the help that was out there. We were able to pull together the right people to make the program a reality.”

According to the Small Business Administration, one-half of all private-sector employees in the United States are employed by a small business. To date, Entrepreneur Express has trained more than 3,000 entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs to operate a thriving small business.

Learning to lead

Leadership development is another important part of Extension's growing community viability effort. Mark McCann, director of Extension says, “In order for a community to thrive and sustain itself over the long term, it must have leaders who can look at complex problems and devise multi-faceted solutions to those problems. Our leadership development programs are designed to help elected officials and local citizens learn those problem-solving skills.”

One of the ways Extension teaches leadership development is through its Innovative Leadership: Building Community Connections program. The experience encourages participants to build their leadership skills, increase their awareness of community issues, network with other leaders, and become more engaged in community, civic, and governmental activities.

“Our sessions cover leadership traits, effective communication and presentation skills, team dynamics, vision and goal-setting, and community planning,” says Martha Walker, a community viability specialist.

Nearly 60 people have completed the program to date, and seven new sessions are scheduled for this fall across the commonwealth. Fourteen certified trainers can offer the program, whose graduates have created results in their counties. 

Cumberland County, where 10 leaders recently graduated from the program, has challenges that include a median household income below the state average, a low percentage of young residents who continue their education beyond high school, and a lack of local job opportunities. The graduates met with local government officials and stakeholders and proposed well-received solutions: regular tours of the county’s resources for citizens; new vocational classes at the local high school; and a proposal for a new, affordable recreational facility. 

“We’re beginning to see the results of our efforts,” Walker says. “We started small but have learned what works and what doesn’t work, and now we are branching out with this program across the commonwealth. We are teaching people to become leaders in their communities and to find ways to help those communities continue to prosper.”

For more information on this topic, e-mail Linda Burcham, or call (540) 231-4310.

Multimedia

Martha Walker, a community viability specialist, discusses details about the Entrepreneur Express program.

Learn more about the Entrepreneur Express program. (MP3 | 6MB)

Other community viability efforts

The community viability program partners with Virginia communities to promote and sustain vibrant economies, healthy and safe environments, and social well-being.  

Education supporting entrepreneurs

   

Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction

The Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction was formed to provide growers with a market for their produce, bedding plants, and herbs and to help diversify the local farm economy. Because of Extension-provided education and consultation, these farmers realized gross receipts of $1.3 million in 2007.   

   

Joell Eifert Joell Eifert, director of the Virginia Food Processor Technical Assistance Program

The Virginia Food Processor Technical Assistance Program guides food processors on the formulation and regulation of their products. During 2007, food products produced by 289 food businesses were analyzed.  

Assistance throughout the commonwealth

Virginia Cooperative Extension has six community viability specialists, across the commonwealth, available to help in their local areas:

For general information on the program, contact Jim Riddell, interim assistant director, at (540) 231-9347.

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