augusta free press news

A creative way to fuel a local economy

Story by Chris Graham

If you know me at all, you know that I’m a sucker for a good idea. The Staunton Creative Community Fund is a good idea.

“The City of Staunton envisions this as a way to strengthen Staunton’s entrepreneurial economy, and we’re pleased that the City of Staunton and the Staunton Industrial Development Authority took the initiative in launching this effort,” said Bill Hamilton, the economic-development director in the city government hierarchy and the president of the board of directors of the Staunton Creative Community Fund, which was established in January with funding from the city and the IDA to support small businesses and nonprofits.

The support can come in several forms, from technical assistance in business planning to what are called microloans in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 that can be used as seed money for a new startup or funds that help an existing small business move to the next level.

The Fund announced today that it has made its first grant under its microloan program, to Charlie’s Tool Repair LLC, a West Beverley Street-based business owned by Marine veteran and retired city deputy fire marshal Charlie Cubbage. The loan will help Cubbage with his efforts to streamline management and accounting services within his business, he told me this morning at a news conference in which the loan was feted, as was a significant grant award from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program in the amount of $96,500.

“It isn’t the loan as much as it is that this organization is at my disposal. Just like I have a loan that they provide, I can also get information on how to run my business,” said Cubbage, whose business, opened in 1994, specializes in the repair of power tools for contractors, local school systems and state agencies and other private-business interests.

“The organization has and will become more for me more than just an organization that will provide me a loan. It will become a resource that I can appreciate probably as long as I have this business,” Cubbage said.

Small-business growth is the name of the game in economic development anymore. As Dr. Anthony Smith, the executive director of the SCCF, told me this morning, small business represents about 70 percent of the local economy in Staunton.

“And these businesses usually have the toughest time in securing financing either to start up or to grow their businesses. Not due to any fault of theirs or the banking institutions. They just represent a higher risk, a higher challenge. And so that’s a role that we can play, assisting them in putting together their business plans, and also offering some initial capital, and introducing them to commercial banks to help them get the rest of what they need,” Smith said.

And in so doing, the Fund helps the community get what it needs. As Cubbage pointed out to me today, his repair business is the only game in town.

“There aren’t any other power-tool repair businesses within the confines of this community and the surrounding communities, like Lexington, Bath County, et cetera. So we feel like we have the chance to be very viable,” Cubbage said.

“The school systems take advantage of us. State agencies – VDOT, the Augusta Correctional Center. The construction industry. Industrial parks in the area. And the one area that we still have available to us is the local plants. A lot of those organizations have their own internal workforces that will do work on their tools. I haven’t formally advertised to them yet, but I hope that once we do, those organizations will find that we can be an asset to them,” Cubbage said.