Beth Wilkerson is in the job creation business at UNC Pembroke. She is a small business advisor and Assistant Director of the Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) Cape Fear Regional Office, located in UNCP’s Regional Center.
A statewide network, the SBTDC is a part of the University of North Carolina system and headquartered at NC State University. They were founded to help grow new and existing small to mid-sized businesses.
The SBTDC offers free and confidential business counseling. Wilkerson’s office is part of the nine-county Cape Fear Region, and she has assisted small businesses in all nine.
Wilkerson discussed her work in detail during an interview on May 28.
Question: First, how do you define a small business?
Wilkerson: The SBA defines small business as having fewer than 500 employees, but most of our clients are small to mid-size with 10-25 employees. Many of my clients are small, mom and pop businesses.
Question: What are the most common small business issues that you work with?
Wilkerson: Most clients come for help in developing a business plan to get financing. They come to us for help with human resources, accounting, marketing as well as financing. My expertise is in retail, restaurant, hospitality, insurance and accounting in general. We have an outstanding team. If I can’t effectively assist a business, I know someone who can. We have expertise in government contracting and international business to name a couple of our specialty services.
Question: Tell us about your resume?
Wilkerson: I am from Robeson County, and I earned an MBA from UNCP. I was hired by SBTDC, in part, because I was a member of a team of students who consulted with a small business. We placed 3rd in a statewide contest sponsored by SBTDC. My parents are entrepreneurs and are successful in several businesses including insurance and catering. I was raised behind a cash register at our family’s business beginning at age 12. So, I truly understand the needs of small businesses. My knowledge of Quick Books (accounting software) is utilized greatly by our clients. I am in my sixth year with the SBTDC. Our mission is to make an economic impact in North Carolina, and we do. I enjoy being part of a successful team.
Question: How does SBTDC measure its success?
Wilkerson: We keep a scorecard that is truly impact-based. I saw 123 individual clients in 2012 and delivered over 944 counseling hours. Jobs are the real measure of our success. Our regional goal is to create 200 new jobs this year and we are on target to accomplish that. For every $1 SBTDC spends providing its services, we return $2.95 to North Carolina in tax revenue. Businesses we consult with grow faster and are more successful on average. Yes, I find this job very rewarding.
Question: I know your clients are confidential, but are there any success stories you can talk about.
Answer: Yes. Right here in Pembroke, I assisted the Holiday Inn Express and Mighty J’s restaurant with their start-ups. The Holiday Inn was my first large project. They created 14 full-time and two part-time jobs. Mighty J’s was started by two UNCP graduates, which meant a great deal to me. They are in their third year of business.
Question: How do clients hear about the SBTDC?
Wilkerson: Mostly, through word-of-mouth from satisfied clients and from bankers. We attend trade shows and conferences to promote the SBTDC. The Chambers of Commerce have been a good referral source as well.
Question: How did your office and your clients fare during the recession? Are we still in a recession in Southeastern North Carolina?
Wilkerson: In 2008, the business environment became much more difficult. Small business financing dried up. We were able to get financing from Small Business Administration guaranteed loans and micro-enterprise loans. There are signs the local and state economy is picking up. We’re very busy; that’s a good sign. We are meeting our goals for 2013. We’re seeing more start-ups. If there is a trend, it is the return of manufacturing/production and the growth of sustainable agriculture in the local food movement.
Question: You also work in higher education. What is your relationship with UNCP?
Wilkerson: We leverage the resources of the University’s School of Business and its MBA program. Teams of MBA students continue to consult with small businesses. As an MBA student, Ariana Billingsley was a paid intern in my office for six months. The SBTDC hired her at the East Carolina University office in government procurement and contracts. I would say it’s a mutually beneficial partnership. Dr. (Howard) Ling, (MBA director), sends us the most wonderful students, and we provide these students the opportunity to work with locally owned businesses; the benefits to the clients have consistently been positive. Dr. (Dean Rami) Maysami and the School of Business are working to develop an internship program to work with our clients as well.
Question: You’ve said this before, but you believe strongly that your UNCP MBA prepared you well.
Wilkerson: Yes! I feel that I gained something of value in the MBA program because I use the business knowledge from that experience day in and day out both personally and professionally.