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Huntington helps small businesses

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By James E. Casto

For The State Journal

Bridget Rowsey, owner of Bridget’s Dance Academy, knows firsthand both the rewards and the challenges of starting your own business.

On May 29, Rowsey will be recognized as West Virginia’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the Small Business Week Awards Celebration at the West Virginia University Erickson Alumni Center during the 2014 Teaming to Win Conference.

On April 28, she was in the spotlight at a news conference as Huntington Mayor Steve Williams announced a new initiative, “Huntington: Be Small, Live Large,” aimed at helping entrepreneurs and small business owners get through each step in the process of opening a new business in town.

Williams said in the past the city offered little, if any, help for fledgling business owners. He’s determined to change that, he said.

Sharon Pell is the new Business Services Advocate for the City of Huntington. As Williams noted, she was brought aboard in August of 2013 with the express purpose of streamlining the multi-step process of starting a business and to help walk entrepreneurs through the process. Joining the city in the new effort are the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, Unlimited Future Inc., the Small Business Development Center, Create Huntington, Downtown Huntington Partners and the Huntington Area Development Council.

The news conference provided Williams an opportunity to honor Rowsey as an example of the kind of young business person his new initiative is aimed at encouraging.

Rowsey started her career teaching “after school dance programs” at Christ Temple Church. When she entered Marshall University she participated on the university dance team, eventually moving up into coaching the current team. Four years ago Rowsey took a big chance and started her own dance studio. She opened her business in a small building but quickly outgrew it. So she approached the Huntington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to assist in helping her with a business plan and small loan package.

She also went to City Hall, where Pell gave her the kind of helping hand Rowsey said she wished she had received when she opened her first location. With new financing in place, Rowsey was able to renovate an old Blockbuster movie rental store that had been vacant for several years. And in the new larger quarters her business continues to grow.

“Being under the age of 30, Bridget was a great candidate for the WV Small Business Administration 2014 Young Entrepreneur of the Year,” said Amber Wilson, center manager and business coach with SBDC’s Huntington office.

The award, Wilson said, recognizes Rowsey’s “evidence of success as measured by sales and profits, creative business methods, economic growth and increased employment opportunities.”

Williams said he was particularly pleased to see a thriving homegrown business such as Rowsey’s dance studio move into a building that had been vacated by a national concern.

“No one is going to come in and open businesses like this for us, we have to take the initiative ourselves,” he said.