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Richard Alvarez

Radford University recently rekindled its partnership with the Roanoke Small Business Development Center.

The center closed in 2016 due to funding issues, but has since reopened.

Richard Alvarez — a senior adviser for economic development at the university and formerly its chief financial officer — said the renewed partnership with the SBDC is set up differently.

“Previously we had an office here that was small business. Now we are hosting them [SBDC] and they are serving the entire region, but we are hosting their location. We will be working on all of these collaborations but they are a separate entity,” he said.

Instead of providing funds for the program, the university is providing in-kind support, such as an office for the SBDC in the Davis College of Business and Economics. Different events like seminars and workshops will also be held in the building.

Additionally, the center will have the knowledge and support of staff and students to help carry out its mission of strengthening the region’s small business community.

Regional SBDCs comprise a statewide network through which the Roanoke Regional SBDC serves the New River and Roanoke valleys, as well as the Alleghany Highlands, according to a university news release.

By staffing an office on the Radford University campus, the SBDC is better able to offer its signature pro bono business assistance throughout the New River Valley, to help existing businesses thrive and help startup businesses chart a path to success, according to the release.

Steve Childers, the business college’s director of innovation, will be one of the faculty members working closely with the SBDC. He and Alvarez, along with Roanoke SBDC Director Keith Hartman, were instrumental in reviving the partnership.

“I love the organization. I think they have their finger on the pulse of the region,” Childers said.

He said he is excited about the positive impact the partnership will have on the region and the university’s students.

“This is a chance to integrate us with them, provide better flow of information and create a great learning opportunity for our students. This is Radford University doing its part,” he said. “What better way to teach students than having a student team work on a real business project.”

Hartman said that the partnership with the university will help the organization manage its case load as well because there are only full-time advisers in the Roanoke office including himself, and one employee in the Radford office.

He said that the organization performs a litany of services that can last long after a business’ inception.

“We are here for businesses whenever they need us, whether it’s in the development stage or after they are established. We are there for the entire life cycle,” Hartman said.

In 2018, the Roanoke Regional SBDC served more than 300 clients and provided more than 1,100 hours of counseling. More than 60% of its clients were existing businesses, and nearly 40% were startups. SBDC engagement resulted in more than $3.2 million in capital investment in client businesses, according to the university release.

SBDC funding comes from the Small Business Administration and the regional community. The SBA matches funds raised locally by the SBDC.

Hartman believes strongly in the role local businesses play in the community.

“Small businesses have an overwhelming impact on a region,” said Roanoke Regional SBDC Director Keith Hartman. “They are the backbone of the economy, the core of the community and produce most of the jobs that are created. It is gratifying that Radford University is our partner in advancing the strength of the local community and its economy.”

The new office is located on the second floor of Kyle Hall in Room 255. Appointments are available upon request. Those interested should contact Cheryl Tucker for more information at ctucker@roanokesmallbusiness.org or call 597-5526.

For more information on the SBDC and the services it provides, visit www.roanokesmallbusiness.org.

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Sam Wall covers Pulaski, Radford and Radford University.

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