ASBN’s own Jim Fitzpatrick talked with Chris Clark, the President, and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce at a recent U.S. Chamber Small Business Series in Atlanta. In this interview, Chris explains that Atlanta is the perfect place for them to hold their event because of the diversity and the vitality in Georgia. Chris discusses the benefits that Atlanta and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce can provide to help support and grow small businesses. From being able to leverage the support structures of their local chamber to the economic environment that Atlanta provides, including low taxes. Tune in for more.
JIM: Like to welcome Chris Clark, who’s the president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. Welcome to ASBN.
CHRIS: Thanks, Jim, and congratulations and the startup and the launch.
JIM: Not a problem. Thank you very much for that. I appreciate those comments. Let me ask you, for the people that are watching right now, what is the Georgia Chamber of Commerce because I know a lot of business people are members of maybe their local chamber, and they think-
JIM: … in terms of the local chambers helping them out and such. What does the Georgia Chamber of Commerce do?
CHRIS: Well, and they really need to think about the whole chamber family. So all the local chambers in Georgia are members of the Georgia Chamber just like we’re members of the US Chamber. So our focus is on business development for the entire state, and it’s on advocacy for small businesses and companies in Georgia as well as up in Washington as well.
CHRIS: Our local chambers are doing a lot of the networking that they need to do to help you grow your business. We’re supporting them, but we encourage businesses to be members of both, but it really is the whole chamber family.
JIM: Okay. Okay, great. At the event today, you just finished hosting a panel of business owners. Talk to us a little bit about that.
CHRIS: We’re excited to have the US Chamber MetLife come to Georgia today with their small business series. We’re their second stop. We’re the largest attendance that they’ve had-
JIM: Wow. Really?
CHRIS: … last year or this year in any location.
JIM: That’s great.
CHRIS: But we really wanted them to come here because of the diversity and the vitality of the economy in Georgia and of Georgia’s small businesses. So our panel that we did today was great. We had a Hispanic-owned business, a African American owned business, a small town owned business, a woman-owned business all telling their stories. And though they look very differently sitting on stage, they all had the same challenges, the same issues that they have to deal with, and they all have the same support structures that they’ve leveraged, mainly being their chambers of commerce or other heroes in the industry sectors out there.
CHRIS: So it was exciting to hear that, their failures and their successes. And this series that we’re doing around the country’s really based on that. Let’s learn the stories. What can I learn to take to grow my business. This is just another example of how that chamber family does this type of support.
JIM: Sure, sure, and it’s really a great service that you provide to entrepreneurs and small business owners. Talk to us about the environment in today’s business. Is it a good time to start a business?
CHRIS: It’s a great time. I think we’re more bullish on the economy in Georgia than we’ve been in a very, very long time. We’re the best place to do business five years in a row.
JIM: Wow, that’s phenomenal. [crosstalk 00:02:13]
CHRIS: We’re proud of that. We’re proud of Governor Deal and his leadership to get us there. A lot of that is making sure that you have low taxes, you have low regulatory environment, but you’ve got the networks of support systems that are out there. One of our panelists said today, the biggest surprise that they find when they started their business was how many people wanted to help them and how many people wanted to invest in their success. You get that in Georgia. I don’t know that you get that everywhere else in the world-
JIM: Yeah. Sure.
CHRIS: … where people want to see the benefits, they want to see you do well. They take pride in that. They take pride in that startup society that we have, particularly in Atlanta, but really all over the state of Georgia. That’s why we have the incubators and maker spaces and we have programs in our colleges and our technical colleges, in our K through 12 systems. We’re a state that wants to grow the next great entrepreneur, the next kid that wants to make something great, and we’re putting in those systems if we don’t have them, and in many places, we have them, to continue to grow that sector.
CHRIS: So it’s a great time. We’re seeing more and more startups in Georgia right now. We’re seeing more entrance and applicants into our incubator spaces and in our maker spacers and you’re seeing these new support systems pop up all over the state of Georgia, almost monthly.
JIM: Sure. So for the entrepreneurs that haven’t quite launched their business idea yet-
JIM: … and they’re watching us today, what do you say to them? What’s the first step that they should, from your perspective, what’s the first step they should make? They’re usually looking for guidance and support, and they might have a great idea, but they have no idea how to launch it.
CHRIS: Right. I think it really comes down to that … it takes a village. You’ve got to find somebody that you can go to that’ll be honest with you. Everybody’s going to tell you you’re the best looking person, this is the greatest idea they’ve ever had before, and it really might not be. We’ve got a couple of great incubators in Georgia that really focus on the first step is when you come in the door telling you, “This is a bad idea. You’re going to fail at this. Let’s redirect.” But to be open and be okay with that failure if you’re going to go down the road, but find the people that invest in you, that care about you, your family and friends that’ll be honest with you, to help you get this going. I think that’s the most important thing in the world.
CHRIS: All the financing and all those things don’t matter if at the end of the day you’re going down a road that’s not going to be successful or you don’t have people to guide you back into the right direction.
JIM: Right. You brought up finances as one of those elements. Is there money out there for small business owners, and if there are, where do they need to go to find it, for the most part?
CHRIS: So absolutely. I mean for a lot of startups, they’ll go to the SPDC into those loans. I would encourage people just go to your local bank.
JIM: Start there.
CHRIS: I mean if you’ve got a bank that you’ve been banking with for a while, go sit down with that loan office, go sit down with the bank president, say, “This is my idea,” and they’ll tell you, “We can help you here,” or maybe it’s another third-party bank. Maybe it’s a venture firm that you want to go to, but they’re really your gateway. I don’t think people give our local banks in Georgia the credit that they deserve to be that resource for you. They might not be the end all for you, but they can be a great starting point.
JIM: Right, and a number of them will specialize in small business administration loans, right, SBA loans?
CHRIS: Absolutely. They specialize in that, and then you have some banks in Georgia that specialize in the venture capital side, and you have some banks that really specialize in mid-cap companies.
CHRIS: But they’ll share with you, “Hey, we’re the wrong bank for that, but this is the right bank.”
JIM: Right, so at least it’s a start.
CHRIS: It absolutely is a great place to start.
JIM: Sure. Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. Thank you so much for joining us on ASBN. We appreciate it. Love to have you back on to get an update as to how things are rolling out in Georgia.
JIM: Okay, great. Thank you so much.
CHRIS: Thank you. Appreciate it.