Economic Up-turn for Carbondale

By Gus Bode

Small businesses thrive despite recession

Despite an economic downturn, the SIU Small Business Development Center has seen an increase in activity.

Emily Carter, assistant director, said the reason more people have attended free seminars on how to start and finance a business is primarily because of unemployment.

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“It’s strange in our business what the downturn in economy does,” she said. “When people get laid off from their jobs, they oftentimes turn to entrepreneurship or starting their own business as a career alternative.”

Although some people may turn to opening their own business, Scott Gilbert, an assistant professor of economics, said most people refrain from ownership during a recession. He said the reason most Carbondale businesses remain successful despite economic troubles is because of Carbondale’s isolated location, which helps protect businesses from financial problems, and the large student population.

“The steady economic activity at the University and the steady inflow of students has made possible continued economic prosperity here,” he said. “As long as their business largely is to provide goods and services to faculty and students as well as the surrounding community, those businesses need not worry about some of the problems with the economy that we’ve seen so far.”

Carter, who’s worked in her family-owned Carbondale business, Pier One Imports, understands the impact students have on small businesses.

“When the students come back, everyone is a lot happier in the small business community because they make a huge impact on the amount of money that’s spent in our region,” she said. “Particularly the businesses downtown are reaping the benefits of having that population come back in full force, and that’s really important to the Carbondale economy and many of the businesses that we work with, students represent its primary market.”

In addition to students serving as an economic anchor, small business owners said they have been affected little or not at all by the economy. Even though students and faculty are not the target market for The Book Worm, Carl Rexroad, the owner, said he has seen an elevated amount of sales due in part to a marketing plan.

“I think for niche businesses the demand’s fairly steady no matter what the larger economy does. A poor economy might actually help our business because the cost of new books are so expensive,” he said. “If people need a few bucks they might be more likely to sell books that they [would] have otherwise held on to.”

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For existing business owners, Carter said the only change fueled by recession are interest rates. She said most small businesses see the rates as a chance to refinance debt.

The Small Business Development Center services include free seminars and counseling for small businesses. Carter said more than half of beginning small businesses fail but with Carbondale’s economic stability and the SBDC’s free services, small businesses have a good chance of thriving.

“We truly are a free small business resource that can only help a business owner be more successful,” she said. “I think that success is truly illustrated by the economic impact that we’ve had, particularly in the past 24 months.”

Reporter Lindsey J. Mastis can be reached at [email protected]

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