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Study: Clayton needs to help small businesses

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

FOREST PARK — John Chafin said his Forest Park-based business, Christian’s Pharmacy, gets hit from all sides.

There are the larger pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens, he said, that try to lure away his customers, steep local taxes that eat into his profits and new federal health care mandates that require him to pay out more to keep his employees insured. It’s a story that has plagued many small businesses.

The result, Chafin said, is that places like Main Street in Forest Park are lined with empty storefronts.

“If you look up and down Main Street, where are all of the small businesses?” said Chafin. “They’re pretty much all gone. We’ve got a little bit on this end, but if you look in the middle, they’ve been bought and torn down. They were glad to go. They were looking to go.

“There’s really no advantage to being in a small town anymore,” he added.

A business with less than 50 employees reflects 84 percent of all businesses, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Georgia Tech. Refine that view to look at businesses with less than 20 employees and that includes 75 percent of all businesses.

These figures are included the countywide Comprehensive Strategic Economic Development Plan the researchers recently completed.

Clayton County Chamber of Commerce President Yulonda Beauford said it had been several years since an economic development study had been done in the county and this helped officials realize how widespread the small business community is.

“That’s an area we need to spend some time focusing on as a community,” said Beauford.

To that end, the needs of small business owners are a central component of the development plan. One of the recommended long-term goals is to “recognize the importance of entrepreneurship and small businesses in Clayton County.”

Researchers recommended the county find a way to measure small business support activities, create a small business support expert position, establish a loan-fund to help small businesses expand and provide support to immigrant small business owners.

The needs of small businesses

Jeanne Lowery, owner of Jonesboro-area quilt shop, Quilts and Fixins, has trouble with crime because criminals keep breaking down her front door and stealing her cash register. She said it’s happened a few times and although the register is sometimes empty when it’s taken, she still has to shell out money to replace it and the door every time a theft occurs.

“They really only want the cash register and the money because I don’t think anybody is going to break in to steal a yard of fabric,” said Lowery.

While she isn’t blaming county officials for break-ins, Quilts and Fixins is located just outside the Jonesboro city limits which puts it under the jurisdiction of county police. She hopes a solution has been found.

“My landlord just installed a Plexiglas door, so we’ll see if that solves the problem,” she said.

But criminals aren’t the only issue Lowery has to deal with as a small business owner. She said she has to pay the county $100 twice a year to undergo mandatory fire inspections. A bigger business can afford to absorb that cost, she said, but it can be hurtful to a small business’ bottom line.

“If you’ve had a slow week right before they do the inspection, then $100 is a lot to ask a small business to pay,” she said.

There are other areas where small businesses could be helped.

Christie Willis said more could be done to promote the privately-owned restaurants in the county, including featuring them when they host business leaders from outside the county. She is the daughter of Kathy and John Chafin and helps her mother run Anne and Bill’s Restaurant in Forest Park.

“They could give us catering business,” Willis said. “When they host meetings or different events, they could use a lot of the local businesses.”

The Comprehensive Strategic Economic Development Plan shows there were 74 restaurants in the county that have four or less employees as of 2011. That’s a 25 percent decline from 2007, when there were 99 small restaurants in the county. Still, the restaurant industry ranks second on a list of firms with similar numbers of employees as of 2011. It was behind gas stations and convenience stores, which included 88 businesses.

Playing a game geared toward big business

Chafin said the county should offer the same tax incentives to small businesses that are typically offered to large businesses and companies.  “The big industries, if you look at it, they get advantages,” said Chafin. “They don’t offer tax advantages to a small business. If you bring so many employees in, they’ll give you a tax advantage. They’ll do this, that and whatever for you.”

In addition to Christian’s Pharmacy, Chafin also runs several other small businesses in Forest Park, including a florist, a health services business, an auto shop and a medical supply store.

Most of them are located in the same row of shops on Forest Park’s Main Street. Chafin said he pays $30,000 per year in property taxes on those shops. “Most people don’t even make that much money,” he said.

Chafin also said Forest Park charges him business license fees based on how many employees he has. “So, it’s not conducive for you to hire anyone because all you’re going to do is pay more money,” he said.

Cumulatively, he has about 70 employees who work for him, but he said there are no more than 15 workers at each business.

“Pretty much the only way you’re going to do well as a small business is if you’ve got family involved because the restrictions as far as the amount of money you make for insurance is extremely high,” said Chaffin. “It’s pretty hard for small businesses to make it with the profit margins.”

Other recommendations for improvement

There are five other long-term goals the Georgia Tech researchers recommended the county focus on to improve its economy. Those goals are:

• Improve the internal and external image of Clayton County

• Develop better and broader relationship between the private and public sector in Clayton County

• Create more opportunities for Clayton County residents to find and retain employment

• Refine targeted industry sectors for business recruitment

• Grow the impact of public higher education institutions on Clayton County’s economic development

Grant Wainscott, director of the county’s economic development department, said it’s up to Clayton County officials to find a way to meet those recommended goals now that the researchers have finished their part.

“We now have a road map that recognizes the value of — and brings in — the entire community, providing for levels of responsibility and accountability,” he said.

Comments

OscarKnight 1 year, 5 months ago

...Main Street in Forest Park has lost a lot of businesses during the past few years. One sign of a falling Main Street, is when the local hardware closed it's doors.

...If this trend continues, Forest Park's Main Street will become nothing but a park.

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OscarKnight 1 year, 5 months ago

.....These Chain of Super Mega Retail Stores has been here before, without disturbing our Hometown Main Street Stores. Forest Park was once the shopping mecca of Clayton County, until the Southlake Mall was opened. Even after the Mall, Forest Park continued to have Zayers, K-Mart, Belks, Lionel Toy World, and continues to have Clayton Appliances on Main Street.

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OscarKnight 1 year, 5 months ago

.....I have been doing business on Forest Park's Main Street for over 35 years, and these people are very good professionals, in other words, they know everything about what they sell & other brands, they provided service work, and if you need flowers, they are very fast to respond.

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Robert 1 year, 5 months ago

The county doesn't care who succeeds as long as you pay your taxes. We don't need incentives for immigrant business owners. We need incentives for county citizens to own businesses and to employ county residents.

I hope they didn't pay for this "research", recommendations for improvement

There are five other long-term goals the Georgia Tech researchers recommended the county focus on to improve its economy. Those goals are:

• Improve the internal and external image of Clayton County

Silk purse and sow's ear. Clayton County isn't a destination it's a corridor to get to someplace else.

• Develop better and broader relationship between the private and public sector in Clayton County

Double talk gobbledygook that defines nothing.

• Create more opportunities for Clayton County residents to find and retain employment

Close down the county's welfare office and people will start looking for work.

• Refine targeted industry sectors for business recruitment

Can't attract targeted industry with our school system and three ring circus of government. Sheriff going to trial, Police Chief under investigation.

• Grow the impact of public higher education institutions on Clayton County’s economic development

I've already said double talk gobbledygook. The foundation of higher education is in the lower grades. Without a good foundation of education children will not be seeking higher education.

Grant Wainscott, director of the county’s economic development department, said it’s up to Clayton County officials to find a way to meet those recommended goals now that the researchers have finished their part.

That's passing the buck Wainscott. I think your title as Director of the county's economical development department says it all. Sounds like you need to be fired.

“We now have a road map that recognizes the value of — and brings in — the entire community, providing for levels of responsibility and accountability,” he said.

A map that recognizes the value of WHAT?, and brings in, WHAT?, how is the entire community involved? and provides levels or responsibility and accountability for WHOM?. Just once I would like to see someone in a position of responsibility held accountable.

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OscarKnight 1 year, 5 months ago

..In 2012, 84.67 % of Clayton County Voters, voted for Obama.

..In 2008, 82.93 % of Clayton County Voters; voted for OBAMA

....What was the promises, made by Obama to help small businesses ?

......Clayton County is Democrat Party county.

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Robert 1 year, 5 months ago

Fool me once shame on you, Fool me twice shame on me.

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OscarKnight 1 year, 5 months ago

.....Believe me when I say this; If our long time privately owned businesses goes, so will our trust in the remaining businesses. I have been doing business with privately owned businesses in this county for over 40 years, and seen some of these businesses past down from fathers to sons. Many of these owners will give out their home phone numbers, if you don't already know them. These kind of business owners are also citizens of your city and our county.

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Robert 1 year, 5 months ago

I will go to a "mom and pop" store before going to a national chain if I have the option of supporting a local business.

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OscarKnight 1 year, 5 months ago

......When our house was struck lightning about 30 years ago, I tried to purchase the building materials myself....however; these materials had codes, which let me clueless.I went to West Lumber Hardware, Forest Park, on Forest Parkway, and ask to see the manager. The manager of West came out to our house, measured the doors, windows, and gave us contractor wholesale prices on everything, even a year later when we replaced the roof.

....Because of the Cabinet installation being scheduled, the Manager of West, delivered our sheet rock after hours. West Lumber Hardware isn't here anymore.

...By the way; Manager also gave us a 20 % percent discount on our gas grill, and after a year went by, the grill had a problem and the manager gave us another grill with no charge. Same discount held true when I bought treated wood for our Deck & Wooden Fence.

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OscarKnight 1 year, 5 months ago

....Our Heating & Air Conditioning person passed away a few years ago, but his Son's took over his business and moved. We continue to use his Sons, for this service, if they are not too busy.

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OscarKnight 1 year, 5 months ago

..When the big corporate owned businesses arrived into this county, they took the personalized businesses from our Clayton County; This especially held true in the small atmosphere of Forest Park. Even our Local K-Mart, in Forest Park, the cashiers would remember us.

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