Living right outside of one of the hottest Southern cities can equal success for big ideas
Nestled 30 minutes from the numerous business resources in New Orleans, and home to the Port of South Louisiana, St. John the Baptist Parish is quickly becoming a hub for small business and entrepreneurship. The parish suffered severe damage in 2012 after Hurricane Isaac. Today, the parish now boasts a more robust economy and strengthened community.
Built to Thrive
Case in point is the St. John Business Training Center’s FastTrac program – designed for new business owners with less than five years in business or who have been operating informally.
“It’s a 10-week program – three hours once a week – that explores what an entrepreneur is, helps entrepreneurs identify their market, and helps them with their financials, market strategies and building their team,â€ says Wayne Aucoin, small business consultant and Kauffman FastTrac facilitator at the St. John Business Training Center.
The classes are held at South Central Louisiana Technical College’s Reserve Campus (SCLTC), soon to be known as River Parishes Community College (Reserve Campus) in Summer 2018 when the school merges with one of the local community colleges.
It’s a partnership that benefits both the program and the college, the latter of which supports FastTrac by providing office and classroom space.
The value of the program is that St. John the Baptist Parish sees a lot of support, especially from the campus dean at SCLTC-Reserve, who has an appreciation of how valuable FastTrac is to the local community.
“I once was a small business owner and I wish I had access to this program when I started my company,â€ says Penelope Shumaker, SCLTC-Reserve campus dean. “A lot of times people have a great idea, but they don’t have a support system. This gives them that, because after they go through the classes to learn how to do things correctly and avoid some of the pitfalls of opening a new business, they have a support system they can go back to.”
The people in the group also “feed off each other,â€ adds Aucoin, who says that the networking opportunities are enviable, especially now that the program has graduated more than 100 entrepreneurs, who operate a diverse array of businesses in the area.
“We are looking for businesses that will employ people,â€ notes Aucoin, who says his office can also be a big asset to new businesses in the market for a loan. “We can help with a business plan and getting everything ready to go to a bank to get a loan. Since we know what banks are looking for, we can assist with that.”
Graduates of the program have done an admirable job finding a niche and working within it. For instance, Joy Banner, a tourism and film enthusiast, is co-owner of Reel River Road Tours, which provides tours of the shooting locations of major motion pictures like Django Unchained, True Detective, Interview with the Vampire and 12 Years a Slave.
“We also have a company that competes with Uber and Lyft,â€ says Aucoin, referring to United Front Transportation Services. “It’s a good niche because there are a lot of tourists that come to see the plantations.”
In fact, some of the businesses have proven to be such a good fit in the marketplace that SLCTC-Reserve is now a customer (of Elite Affairs and United Front, among others). “The program has some wonderful success stories.â€ says Shumaker.