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Industry Spotlight: Small Business

Louisiana Economic Development supports small businesses at each phase of the entrepreneurial experience with programs to nurture growth at pre-startups and $50 million companies alike.

Its small business initiatives respond to the evolving needs of Louisiana entrepreneurs.

In 2015, for instance, it expanded its new CEO Roundtables peer program to regions across the state to help more small firms navigate growth obstacles.

The Small and Emerging Business Development (SEBD) program is at the heart of LED’s small business initiatives. The SEBD program helps eligible business owners gain managerial and technical skills through training in areas such as marketing, business planning, and legal and industry-specific assistance.

Step-Ko Products LLC of Broussard provides corrosion-protection products to clients in more than 40 countries. Now highly successful, it turned to LED for help in its early years and later when it wanted to reach new markets. As a certified small and emerging business, Step-Ko received guidance from the Small Business Development Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Louisiana.

Expert help provided by these important SEBD intermediaries included website development, industry-specific training and quality management consulting to improve Step-Ko’s daily operations and product design.

More recently, a second LED program helped Step-Ko reach a broader market base. Launched in 2011, LED’s Economic Gardening Initiative offers approximately 35 hours of intensive market research to qualified second-stage firms that have developed beyond the startup phase. Expert researchers unearth market data that small firms can use to shape decision-making as they look to expand. Some 134 Louisiana firms have participated in the program, which also connects participants with national experts in new media and business strategy.

Step-Ko owner Byron Stephens credits help through SEBD and Economic Gardening with a 100 percent jump in sales and 11 new full-time jobs.

“The programs have been instrumental in helping focus on long-term growth strategies that have certainly paid off,” Stephens said.

Economic Gardening also helped injection-molding company Noble Plastics Inc. of Grand Coteau identify new clients in the defense and design industries.

“The (research) team mined for and found incredible amounts of data in a really short period of time,” said Missy Rogers, Noble Plastics president. “They helped me narrow down where to place my marketing efforts.”

After participating in the program, Noble Plastics doubled its staff and increased revenues by 30 percent per year. Growth has been like “a tiger on a leash,” Rogers said.

CEO Roundtables is another Louisiana Economic Development initiative for second-stage small firms with high-growth potential. Launched in 2014, CEO Roundtables connects decision-makers at small firms in biomedical, software, manufacturing and other target sectors with a network of peer decision-makers at other Louisiana firms. The program focuses on firms with demonstrated growth potential that typically have five to 99 employees and annual revenue of $600,000 to $50 million.

Over the course of a year, the CEO Roundtables convenes 15 to 18 participants for collaborative, half-day discussions to tackle issues from marketing and strategic planning to time management, organizational structure and cyber security.

The sessions provide a place for the exchange of insights among like-minded entrepreneurs who are often too busy running their business to keep pace with challenges to growth. In 2015, LED expanded CEO Roundtables from New Orleans to Baton Rouge and Shreveport to help more entrepreneurs gain peer guidance.

With support from LED, the Lafayette-based Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Louisiana has developed a similar roundtable program specifically for CEOs of Louisiana manufacturers. Thomas J. Brown, president of E-Claim.com in Harvey, described the impact of CEO Roundtables as “remarkable.”

“My main takeaway was a firm commitment to delegating everything that I could,” Brown said. “Our sales and marketing pipeline has grown by 100 percent because I am now able to commit most of my time to this area.”

Quality First Marine of Madisonville likewise grew rapidly — with 15 new employees and revenues up 157 percent — after participating in the Economic Gardening Initiative and CEO Roundtables.

LED also supports efforts to recognize business owners who possess experience in the nation’s military branches. LED’s Veteran Initiative is designed to improve access to state contracts among veteran-owned small businesses. Completing a certification program gives participants bonus points in Louisiana’s public-bidding system.

“These points give us a real advantage,” said John Stinson, president of Technology Engineers Inc. in Baton Rouge.

LED’s Hudson Initiative certification likewise helps eligible small firms compete for state contracts. Certified companies receive a 10 percent point-bonus during evaluation of their bid proposals. JESCO Environmental & Geotechnical Services of Jennings, once a regional firm, now wins contracts in several states.

“The Hudson Initiative has proven to be the most significant program for growth in our business,” said Alvinette Teal, JESCO principal in charge.