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Open for Business

Recession creates new
opportunities for entrepreneurs

Business loans help get them off the ground

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

November 2009 Indiana Edition Cover

November 2009
Indiana Edition Cover

MADISON, Ind. (November 2009) – After decades of dedicating his career to Fortune 500 companies, such as Procter and Gamble and Hewlett Packard, Morgan Griffith found himself among the faceless millions of unemployed workers let go because of corporate cutbacks.
Instead of being a victim of the global economic crisis, however, Griffith fought back. He used what some would call a setback to pursue a dream he’d had for years; he decided to take a chance and open his own business.
Already an avid athlete as a competitive unicyclist, Griffith used his passion for fitness as a tool for his new career and on Oct. 16 opened Snap Fitness, a 24-hour fitness center, located on the hilltop in Madison, Ind.
Griffith isn’t the only one who has refused to let the dark economic news and predictions of the last year dampen enthusiasm for pursuing a lifelong dream. Throughout Madison, numerous enterprising people have opened or are working to open small business and have actually used the economic downturn to their advantage.
The economic news remains grim. According to Hoosier Data Inc., non-seasonally adjusted unemployment in Jefferson County was at 9.5 percent; the state non-seasonally adjusted rate was 9.5 percent, while the U.S. rate was also 9.5 percent.
According to state economic forecast by Indiana University Bloomington’s Kelley School of Business, employment is expected to drop through early next year, with unemployment reaching around 10.9 percent. At that point, total job losses are expected to exceed 195,000, or 6.6 percent of pre-recession peak employment. Since the third quarter of 2007, Indiana employment has been declining at a rate of 86,000 per year. For comparison, during the period 1991-2006, the state economy gained an average of almost 29 thousand jobs per year.

Harriette Parton

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Harriette Parton
poses in her new shop, Harriette’s Knit Knook, located on Madison’s
Main Street. It is
scheduled to open Nov. 12.

The forecast model suggests that “especially with regard to employment, the recession will continue to hit Indiana hard over the rest of this year.” Instead of looking for a job, many people have decided to create their own.
“Usually in a recession, it is the small businesses that lead us out of it,” said Blayr Barnard, regional director of the Southeast Indiana Small Business Center, of which Jefferson County is a member. “Small businesses that start up and survive recessions tend to put in place good plans that help them succeed.”
The center provides free and totally confidential counseling to anyone interested in starting a new business or an already existing business. “We offer a full range of business services all for free,” said Barnard. “We are here to make small businesses succeed.”
In 2008, the center assisted 85 clients, helping them start or buy 12 new businesses, created 45 jobs and secured $1.7 million of financing in Jefferson County. The SBDC headquarters until recently had been located in the Venture Out Business Center, 975 Industrial Dr., Madison, but recently it moved to New Albany, Ind., to expand its outreach.
“We encourage every person who has an idea for a business to at least come in and see if it’s feasible,” said Barnard. “While statistics show that two-thirds of small businesses fail within their first five years, independent analysis shows that 80 percent of companies started with SBDC assistance remain in business eight years later.”
When Griffith and his wife, Caren, decided to open their fitness gym, it was after months of careful research and planning. They are from Vevay, Ind., but decided to locate their business in Madison because of the town’s size, its affability, and its need for the types of fitness services Snap Fitness offers.
“I think we offer something unique,” said Morgan Griffith. “This is more of a community gym than others. Our hours accommodate the shift workers and others whose schedules don’t fit a typical gym, and we carry state of the art equipment.”
Although open only a short time, the gym has already had an influx of people, including many who have never been inside a gym before. “Believe it or not, 4 a.m. seems to be a popular time for people to work out,” said Morgan.
The gym is equipped with high tech surveillance equipment and monitoring devices for the safety of members during non-staffed hours. Security cards are used to gain entrance into the gym. Personal trainers are available for one-on-one training, and small group sessions are also available. The Griffiths sons, Myles and Dylan, are also involved in the business.
The bad economy is something the Griffiths are certainly aware of, but they believe that “now is as good a time as any.”
“Any time you open a business you worry,” said Caren, who also owns the Untangled Main hair salon in Vevay. “You have to plan carefully and have confidence.” Caren is also a certified yoga instructor and teaches classes at the YMCA in Switzerland County, Ind.
Harriette Parton, owner of the soon-to-open Harriette’s Knit Knook, 103 E. Main, has been an avid knitter since her elementary school days. She belongs to three knitting groups, and is a founder of the Sip’n Knit group in Madison.
She and her husband, Ron, are retirees living on a fixed income. Recent changes in living and medical expenses stretched her budget beyond its means. She knew she needed to do something to bring in some extra income; she just didn’t know what that something was.
A conversation kept recurring among the participants in the knitting groups as to where and why knitters had to drive to larger cities to get top quality yarn and supplies.
“You must use top quality yarn to produce top quality items,” said Parton. “But in order to get the type we need, knitters have to travel all the way to Louisville, Ky., or Seymour, Ind., and other larger communities to get supplies. It’s so time consuming and expensive.”

Morgan and Caren Griffith

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Morgan and Caren
Griffith have opened
Snap Fitness gym on
the Madison hilltop. It is
located next to Hibbett’s Sports and will offer
24-hour fitness hours.

She was eventually approached by another knitter who asked her to consider opening a shop. The knitter knew Parton was an expert in all things concerning knitting. After she thought about it, Parton realized she could do something like that but wasn’t sure if there was a real need in the community or even if such a thing was possible.
“I had meetings with people who loved the idea and were sure such a shop would be successful,” she said. “In the meantime, I began doing research on available buildings, loans, suppliers, inventory and everything I could think of.”
Parton went to the SBDC, and they helped her put together a viable business plan that convinced the bank to give her a chance.
Harriette’s Knit Knook, set to open mid-November, will carry top quality yarn and other knitting supplies, such as needles, patterns and limited knitted products. Custom-made items will be available on a per-item order.
There will be classroom instruction, group knitting and even a men’s knitting night. “We have women of all ages, both male and female teenagers, children and many men who love to knit,” she said.
She also understands the state the economy is in, but said, “You can’t let dire economic news stop you. If people want your service, then they will be there.”
Beverly Gullion grew up in Madison but spent her adult life teaching children in Scottsburg, Ind. After close to four decades as an educator, Gullion retired from physically teaching children, but she never retired her passion for teaching.
For 35 years, she had a dream hidden in her heart that never dimmed. With her four children grown, time on her hands and financial stability, Gullion decided now was the time to fulfill that dream.
“This is the next step for me,” she said.
Madison Imagination Station, located at 309 W. Main, will be developmentally appropriate play center with educational opportunities for preschoolers when it opens Dec. 6. There will be large themed play space, a stage for productions, classrooms for rent, and a party room.
“Imagination is the limit on what will be available,” said Gullion, who also founded the private Scottsburg Academy for gifted children. “”We will let things evolve and develop as time goes on.”

Beverly Gullion

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Beverly Gullion plans
to open Madison
Imagination Station on
Main Street on Dec. 6.

She envisions musical classes, home education courses, drama education, and other instruction taking place in the classroom spaces, while preschool children develop their imaginations and develop their skills in the play areas. Parents will be required to be on site during their children’s playtime. The center is not a daycare.
Adam Davis has been a businessman in the area for decades. He’s owned a bar and a furniture shop. Once again, he has decided to take a chance on another business and has opened Davis and Son Bargain Barn, 2925 Clifty Dr.
“I’ve always been in business for myself,” he said. “While there is no guarantee when you work for yourself, my heart wouldn’t be in it if I was working for someone else.”
Davis, who actually opened his new bargain barn for his son, A. Troy Davis, believes there is money readily available in the area. “Look at the parking lots of some of the area retailers. They are always full. People are spending money on things they need,” he said. “If you supply what they need, they will spend money with you.”
Davis sells used furniture along with a variety of new items, including toys, dolls, tools, sports memorabilia, NASCAR items, and socks. “I try to be competitive and get what people want and need.”
Davis is also optimistic that the economy is recovering. He said it is better than where it was months ago, and it is now starting to pick up more steam. He isn’t really worried, either, about the anticipated year-long closing of the Milton-Madison Bridge in 2011. That is when the 80-year-old bridge superstructure is to be replaced, if federal grant funding comes through.
“The bridge will be as big a problem as people let it be,” he said.
The recent spate of business openings has generated optimism among Madison city officials.

Adam Davis

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Adam Davis has recently opened
Davis & Son Bargain Barn on
the Madison hilltop.

“We are excited to see new businesses opening in Madison,” said Jenny Eggenspiller, the city’s special projects coordinator. “We will work with small businesses any way we can to help them succeed.”
Eggenspiller said the city has a special low-interest micro loan program. Small businesses that quality and are approved through a committee process can receive up to $25,000 at a 4 percent interest.
The program, which started years ago through a grant, has already helped three businesses this year. “As people begin to pay back their loans, more money is available to help new businesses,” said Eggenspiller. “Any small business interested in the loan program should come to City Hall and fill out an application.”
The city is also working with the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce to develop a program to target small business. In the past, the city budgeted $5,000 for the SBDC for operating costs. Because the agency moved to New Albany, that money was given to the chamber for its small business program.
“We want to make sure the money remains in this county and is used for local businesses,” said Dave Collier, the chamber’s executive director. “We are doing our own research and development on what is still needed and what gaps may be left in efforts to help small businesses.”
Collier said small businesses are the “backbone of our community,” and that there are signs the economy is slowly recovering. “Entrepreneurs are certainly adding to the community through their revenue, job creation and products.”

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