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THE ENTREPRENEURS: PART ONE
About this series: Perhaps the most eye-catching of the Crossroad Institute’s many successes in its five-year history is the support the facility has given Twin County residents wanting to start or expand businesses.
Most prominent are the results from the Crossroads Small Business Development Center, often in conjunction with the Southwest Regional Enterprise Center, which is Crossroads’ business incubator.
In the past five years, the Crossroads SBDC has helped some 170 budding entrepreneurs develop successful business plans. Of these, 140, with SBDC aid, acquired more than $40 million in start-up funding. Ninety-six percent of these firms remain open, employing 665.
The business incubator provides Crossroads facilities for new firms to benefit from reduced expenses and close access to professional advice while these enterprises gain stability.
Less visible is the support from two local Crossroads-based economic development offices: Blue Ridge Crossroads Economic Development Agency and its Director Ken McFadyen, and Carroll County’s Business Development Specialist Bernie Deck.
Today, The Gazette begins a series of profiles of five Twin County residents Crossroads has helped realize their dream — owning their own business.
Advisors gave surveying firm the 'gift' of discipline
Brian Sutphin had his education, some experience and an idea for a business.
All he and his wife Tamara needed was someone to tell them, in Sutphin’s words, “if we were crazy.”
So they made an office call, in the Carroll County Government Center, on Dr. Dallas Garrett. Not a psychiatrist, Garrett instead has 43 years’ experience in education and private industry helping budding entrepreneurs like the Sutphins succeed.
Garrett is now director of the Crossroads Small Business Development Center at the Crossroads Institute in Galax.
“Dallas got right to work and helped us come up with a rock-solid business plan,” said Sutphin, 35, who earned his associate’s degree in civil engineering technology from Wytheville Community College and his B.S. in surveying and mapping from East Tennessee State University, both in 1999.
He worked in aerial mapping throughout the Southeast, returning to Carroll County in 2004 to work for a local surveyor.
Garrett also helped the Sutphins find funding for what is now Blue Ridge Surveying & Mapping in Hillsville.
“In that business plan, Dallas forced us to get realistic numbers,” Sutphin said. “As a result, we knew the number of weekly billing hours we needed to survive. Once we hit that number, we knew we’d made it through another week.”
The firm opened in November 2006, having spent extra money to buy the best surveying equipment in the area and train to use it properly. In addition to Sutphin and wife Tamara, the draftsperson, the new company had two full-time employees.
Business grew rapidly, gaining larger clients, until the firm was booked three months ahead.
The Sutphins maintained ties with Garrett and relied heavily on financial consultant Sandy West, who also works with Crossroads and the SBDC.
A year after they opened, the Sutphins borrowed money to buy another set of surveying equipment, a vehicle and add four to the payroll. Blue Ridge Surveying & Mapping grew to nine employees.
But after nearly six months of his firm being fully booked, “The phone stopped ringing,” Sutphin said. “The real estate market crashed, and we got hit here just as hard as anywhere.
“We couldn’t keep nine people busy,” said Sutphin, who had to make one of the most painful decisions of his life. “It came time to stop the bleeding.”
He laid off five employees.
Now the market is slowly bouncing back, and two months ago, the Sutphins hired two new employees.
“I’m not counting my chickens before they hatch,” Sutphin said, “but right now things are going well.”
The Sutphins thanked Crossroads, Garrett and West for injecting their surveying business with the discipline needed to weather tough times.
“Dallas Garrett helped us start our business. Sandy West is the reason we’re still in business,” Sutphin said. “They gave us a real gift.”
From the Crossroads kitchen, Squealers expands to three businesses
When it comes to journalistic objectivity, Mark Davis bent the rules while working for The Carroll News in 2004 — and he’s never regretted it.
Davis was covering the first Smoke on the Mountain state barbecue competition in Galax. The assignment took him behind the scenes, where he was fascinated with professional barbecue’s intricacies.
That experience soon ended Davis’ two decades with newspapers.
Davis studied the craft, bought a small smoker and the next year, as an amateur, won second place for his barbecued ribs at Smoke on the Mountain.
What started as a tiny “cottage business” has recently expanded into three related Squealers Authentic Barbecue ventures. Davis is quick to give much of the credit for his success and rapid expansion to the Crossroads Institute; its Southwest Regional Enterprise Center, a business incubator; and the Small Business Development Center there.
“I had no idea what it took to start my own business,” said Davis, 42, a Carroll County High School graduate. But with help from SBDO Director Dr. Dallas Garrett and financial consultant Sandy West, Davis quickly learned what he needed to succeed.
Having earlier heard Carroll County Administrator Gary Larrowe discuss business incubators at a Rotary meeting, Davis soon found his catering business operating from the Crossroads incubator.
In its building, previously a Lowe’s Home Center store, Crossroads devotes considerable space for new businesses, allowing them to gain stability during their first few years. These fledgling ventures benefit from reduced rent and other expenses plus guidance from small business experts just down the hall.
Crossroads even has a full kitchen and ready-made customer base with its employees, hundreds of Wytheville Community College students attending classes there, plus catering for the numerous meetings Crossroads hosts.
In May 2006, Davis inquired about using the Crossroads kitchen for his catering, and in September 2008 he opened Squealers Café, also open to the public, in the Crossroads lobby.
“The Crossroads incubator allowed me to get started without spending many thousands of dollars for equipment,” Davis said. Garrett and others also helped Davis with a business plan and meeting health regulations.
Soon, Davis plans to open his third Squealers venture, a restaurant in the former Sonic Drive-In on East Stuart Drive in Galax, just west of Sears. “It’s a full-service, dine-in, take-out restaurant — but it’s not a drive-in” Davis adds quickly.
Squealers Café and catering will continue at Crossroads. His three enterprises will employ approximately 20.
“There’s so much opportunity available at Crossroads, assistance people aren’t aware of,” Davis said. “I’m so thankful for the help and encouragement Crossroads and my customers have given me.”
As the Crossroads Institute embarks on its fifth year, its leaders are recalling what has made the economic development facility a success in Galax and the Twin Counties. Crossroads Institute has provided support to entrepreneurs and has been a place for adults who wish to continue their education.
On Monday, Aug. 16 at 10:30 a.m., Crossroads will host an information session explaining how the facility got started, how it has helped entrepreneurs and those continuing education and the vision for the next few years.
A series of profiles in The Gazette, starting today, will highlight some of those success stories over the past five years.