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Program hub of help for small businesses
Debbie Allen, owner of Savvy Exchange in Cumming, arranges inventory Wednesday. Allen received help last year from the Small Business Services Center of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce when she was relocating the store from Dahlonega. - photo by Autumn Vetter


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For more information about the services provided through the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Services Center, contact Jason Mock at (770) 887-6461 or, or visit

The Small Business Services Center of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce just finished a busy year.

Despite the name “center,” it doesn’t occupy a separate location from chamber offices.

But the center’s director, Jason Mock, said there still are plenty of offerings for small business owners and those thinking about starting a new business.

That’s significant since small businesses account for the largest percentage of local businesses. 

“Businesses with one to 10 employees in Forsyth County make up about 4,645 of our businesses,” Mock said. “And 95 percent of our businesses have between one and 25 employees.”

One of those businesses is Savvy Exchange, a clothing consignment shop on Market Place Boulevard.

Owner Debbie Allen said the center was a big help last year when she was relocating her business from Dahlonega.

The store opened at its current site in early December, Allen said.

“We had been in Dahlonega for 16 years, but my husband and I lived in Cumming for the past 11 years,” Allen said. “I had to make that long drive every day.”

She said Mock helped her find the ideal spot, which was much closer to home.

“He made sure I was getting the best location possible,” Allen said. “He also put me in touch with a real estate person who was a chamber member, who helped me negotiate my lease. I didn’t even know you could do that.”

Allen said Mock also helped with a ribbon cutting ceremony for the business, as well as marketing and networking ideas.

“I don’t see how small businesses could survive without being members of the chamber,” she said.

Allen isn’t alone in receiving help from the center.

According to Mock, it assisted nearly 450 current and prospective merchants in 2011.  One of the most notable new programs was the introduction of a small business tool kit.

“That’s online on the chamber’s Webs site and it provides step-by-step information for prospective business owners,” Mock said. “It helps them go through and see exactly what they need to do to start up a new business.”

The tool kit is free and available to anyone, regardless of chamber membership.

Mock said 2011 seemed to be a big year for start-ups.

“We had a lot of inquiries from phone calls, e-mails and walk-ins,” he said. “I think a lot of people were interested in starting their own business in 2011 after having a rough year in 2010.

“After getting laid off or not being happy working for someone else, a lot of people said, ‘Hey, I’ll step out and try this.’”

He noted that he worked with some five companies all the way from the planning stages to opening in 2011.

Mock said he also saw many shops, such as Allen’s, whose owners wanted to relocate from other counties.

“We have low taxes and high wealth, which makes for a lot of successful businesses,” Mock said.

For 2012, Mock said he hopes to see strong growth in the small business arena.

“Our goal is to increase our small business population by around 33 percent in 2012,” he said, noting emphasis will be placed on marketing and recruiting.

“We want to develop some new materials that introduce folks to our strengths in Forsyth County, so they can make an informed decision about coming here.”

In addition, Mock said, he wants to provide more educational opportunities for existing merchants.

“We’re kicking off a new seminar series on Feb. 9,” he said. “Kevin McDonough, a local attorney, will be speaking about legal issues that business owners need to be aware of.”

Other seminars will be held throughout the year with information for established entrepreneurs.

“We want to add sessions with a little more substance beyond basic information for our business owners who are already doing well,” Mock said.

He said the expanded “lunch and learn” seminars will be held through a partnership with area universities and technical colleges. Despite the ongoing recession, he believes it’s a good time to start or continue a business.

“It’s not easy, but if people are educated and have a real passion — that’s the No. 1 thing, having a strong passion to go through the day-to-day struggles and obstacles — I do believe now is a good time to start a small business,” he said.

“And we’re here to answer questions and look at anything they might need help with. We truly want all businesses in Forsyth County to be successful.”