Loudoun County government could soon rethink how it supports small businesses, pulling funding from the longstanding Mason Enterprise Center in Leesburg and standing up a new program based at the county’s Department of Economic Development in Ashburn.
Department Executive Director Buddy Rizer last week proposed to the Board of Supervisors using the funding the county is now sending to support the Mason Enterprise Center to instead hire two new positions in his office dedicated to small businesses, particularly minority-owned small businesses.
“Our research indicates minority-owned business have experienced heightened risk associated with the pandemic, in part due to being smaller in size, concentrated in high-risk industries, and struggling with access to capital,” Rizer said. He proposed a new model with an increased focus on minority-owned businesses, education for small businesses, and bringing those services directly to those businesses and communities around the county.
And he said the Mason Enterprise Center isn’t serving those purposes, and that both he and the Leesburg Economic Development Department are proposing taking away its public funding.
“When the MEC was first envisioned a decade ago, it was proposed as an incubator with value added services for both tenants of the center and for the community at large, but in time the MEC became more of a coworking space taking advantage of the Leesburg HUB Zone,” Rizer said. “Ten years ago, there were no real coworking facilities in Loudoun or Leesburg. Today, there are 15 such facilities across the county.”
The county is in a two-year agreement contributing $119,340 a year toward the center. The HUBZone program was created to encourage small business growth in historically underutilized business zones by awarding at least 3% of federal contract dollars to HUBZone-certified companies each year. Businesses based in the Mason Enterprise Center can join that program.
Economic development officials do not recommend taking away the yearly $100,000 that the county currently puts toward the Small Business Development Center, which is also based inside the Mason Enterprise Center. According to the county report, the SBDC “provides outstanding value to the businesses it serves” and was “integral” to the department’s work to help businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
And Rizer said inside his department, that money can be put to work helping businesses with the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was amazing to me, when we were going through the Small Business Interruption Fund, how many of our small businesses couldn’t fill out a basic spreadsheet, or didn’t understand how to report on losses and profit,” Rizer said. “Those kinds of things are teachable skills, and we need to be able to create those kinds of programs that allow people to learn those skills so that they can help themselves going forward.”
The Leesburg Town Council is expected to discuss the Mason Enterprise Center at their meeting Monday, Dec. 22.