EDA hosts small business forum
Much of the Friday, Nov. 17 meeting of the Woodford Economic Development Authority (EDA) was spent discussing the needs of existing and potential small businesses. The small business forum attracted about two dozen participants, and when a group of high school students arrived, the meeting had what EDA Chairman John Soper suggested was the first full house in EDA history. Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott praised the work of the EDA but said he’d recently been approached by someone saying the EDA, the city of Versailles and county government were overlooking small businesses. Traugott said the city and county can do a better job of providing something like “one-stop shopping” when business owners come to the Versailles Municipal Utilities building (City Hall) or the county courthouse. “We should look at a way where the first one you go to is the last one you go to. City Hall, I have information on the county, business questionnaire, zoning regulations, things of that nature (that) you ought to be able to get answered at the first place you go. That’s something we will look at,” Traugott said. “I think any business in Woodford County can come here to the courthouse; we should be able to take care of it,” Woodford Judge/Executive John Coyle said. Woodford Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Don Vizi said he’s been trying to help fill the old Kroger building since the new Kroger opened nearly two-and-a-half years ago. He said he came up with a plan for a “three-plex” movie theater, convention center, archery range, and 4,000 square feet of retail space with some left over. Vizi said Brixmor, the owner of the building, was supportive, but wouldn’t release information that would make a feasibility study possible. Vizi said the Chamber has a wide variety of information for local business owners, from how to come up with a business plan to the help available from the federal Small Business Administration (SBA). A member of the SBA will be at the Chamber office (141 N. Main Street) on Nov. 29, at 8:30 a.m. to talk about what they can do for businesses. “We have that all available and we’re willing to share that with everybody, but I think the problem was that nobody really realizes that we had that,” Vizi said. Vizi said Chamber member Kyle Fannin (who formed the Community Activism program when he taught at Woodford County High School) is updating the chamber website’s list of properties for sale or lease. Bob Gibson, the director of technology for the Woodford County Public Schools, is putting together webinars that will include information needed by small business owners, Vizi said. Those would help people who can’t attend Chamber and other meetings, and can be watched at their convenience. Maria Bohanan, who owns the North Main Street business Pretty in Pink and heads the Versailles Merchants Association, said gatherings of experts would be valuable. “A lot of people don’t know what they don’t know. Like my little shop – there’s lots of things you wouldn’t think you’d need. I really don’t have employees, but my accountant and my insurance person said, ‘You need workers comp.’ Well, how would I know that …?” Bohanan said. Leslie Penn, the co-owner of the Historic Midway Museum Store with her husband, Bill, said many small businesses don’t succeed because the owners don’t know what they should be doing. Getting them to attend informational meetings is often a challenge, she said. Soper said the need for good financial practices was recently demonstrated when a Central Kentucky business was defrauded by a bookkeeper for $100,000. “In my career as a banker, I saw this quite a bit in small businesses that don’t have the same audit functions or understand the same risk that we may have in bigger businesses. So I think if we could get our auditors to come … explain the risks that you have turning over your checkbook to somebody else – it’s just unbelievable. If you don’t have some safeguards in there, it can really be bad,” Soper said. Lisa Johnson, a member of the city of Versailles’ Downtown Planning Advisory Committee (DPAC) and co-chair of the committee’s Downtown Business and Finance subcommittee (DBIZ), praised Traugott for his executive order forming DPAC. DPAC’s goals include compiling an inventory of assets, increasing commercial activity and housing opportunities, better incorporating Big Spring Park and determining if more downtown parking is needed. “There are 320 parking spots in the downtown area, but people don’t know where they are, so how are they going to park there? Before we build a parking structure, (how) are we utilizing our parking spaces?” Johnson asked. DPAC and its other three subcommittees meet on the third Wednesday of each month at the city’s Huntertown Road fire station, and the public is invited to take part, Johnson said. “The DPAC overall mission is building a cohesive, vibrant downtown destination that embraces locals and visitors alike with memorable work, stay, live and play experiences,” Johnson said. “I think the biggest thing is not knowing where to find these resources and helping embrace small business when they come downtown …” Steve Morgan, who operates Kentucky Honey Farms in Midway, said cooperative efforts need to include Midway businesses. Soper said he still believes Midway Station is an attractive site for a hotel, and that he thought the EDA was close to luring one there two years ago. Brad Lawson of Show Place Realty said he had a client who wanted to open or take over a business in downtown Versailles, so he called shops “that hadn’t been open in years” and found the owners had no interest in selling. Midway shop hours are a continuing challenge, too, he said. “At 5 o’clock, if everything’s closed, what good is having restaurants open downtown going to do, because you’re not going to be bringing in business to those places? …” Lawson said. Lawson said during a Woodford Leadership meeting, an Airbnb operator said that 90 percent of his business came from people visiting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Having a hospital is vital to the future of the area, too, Lawson said – a sentiment echoed by Soper. (The site of a new location for Bluegrass Community Hospital is presently tied up in a lawsuit over the 336-acre Edgewood Farm property. The Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission expanded the city’s urban services boundary and the city annexed the property to make way for a mixed-use development there, which would include a new home for the hospital.) Soper said it was a “real concern” that Lifepoint Health, the hospital’s parent company, might decide to make its planned $35 million investment elsewhere. “If we lose that hospital, what does that do to our industry?” Soper asked. EDA member Paul Schreffler said a one-stop government “concierge” for small businesses and a small business incubator are important goals. Midway through the forum, a group of students from Woodford County High School arrived and several spoke of what sort of businesses they’d like to see. Bowling and movies are too expensive, according to Turner Reynolds, recently named the 2018 Distinguished Young Woman of Woodford County. “Personally, I would like to see something to do and be active. Maybe a roller-skating rink … or one of those trampoline parks …” Reynolds said. One student pitched a videogame store to replace Gemini Gaming, which also hosted videogame tournaments, while another said that part of the fun of going to Lexington to do things they can’t do in Versailles is the trip itself. Soper said the EDA would take the information provided at the forum, compile it for its next meeting, and distribute the minutes to the Chamber and the merchants associations of the two cities.