GULFPORT Patsey Ward of Biloxi has known about Climb CDCs new Womens Business Center for only two weeks, but already shes feeling her life turn around. Its been a long time coming.
The Tunica native moved to the Coast from Oregon in 2005 to form an organization to help youth, But Katrina took all that away, she said. Ward then got a retail job, but the store closed. Shes been unemployed pretty much since then.
But its not that she hasnt tried and its not that shes uneducated. She said she has had certification as a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor and worked with and established programs for Native Americans while in Oregon.
This program offers resources and that cover everything you need to have a successful business, Ward said. For a person like me who has been unemployed, it can revitalize hope in your life.
She now wants to start a bulk dry good store. They can just scoop up what they need. With the price of food going up, this could help people save and hopefully not have to choose between medication and insurance and feeding their families.
Ward was among a group of dignitaries, supporters and sponsors who attended the Feb. 5 grand opening of the center at Climb CDC headquarters in downtown Gulfport. She is one of about 30 who have signed up for the program that counsels and mentors women and men on how to start their own businesses.
The Small Business Administration is sponsoring the center, which is the only one in the state and one of only 110 in the country.
There is a lot of exciting and life-changing activity that goes on within these walls, said Cindy Ward, project manager for the Womens Business Center. This marks the addition of new programming and resources that will enable us to reach out to men and women who want to start a small business and to ultimately help them achieve self-reliance through entrepreneurship. Our program will give them tools and resources necessary to achieve that.
Susan Byers, program manager for the U.S. Small Business Administrations Office of Womens Business Ownership, is more than advocate for training women entrepreneurs.
Im so in love with this program, she said. I am the biggest cheerleader for the Womens Business Centers that there is.
And despite only $150,000 provided by the federal government to start the centers (it hasnt changed in the 25 years of the program), We do amazing things, Byers said. We help between 140,000 and 170,000 people a year. We have a huge impact. In fact, the Womens Business Center program is the most effective tool that the SBA has.
You can throw money at someone, but if they dont know what to do with it, youre wasting it, Byers added. If they know how to maximize the money, youre making a really strong investment.
Byers said that because of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974, Something amazing happened. Women began to open business at twice the rate of all business in the country.
Although the center does not discriminate (there is at least one man involved in the program), its focus is women.
Researchers have shown that when you educate women, you educate their children, their families, their friends. You are educating a whole neighborhood when you educate one woman. So what the center is doing now is really important. Its important for women in this community, for the city of Gulfport, for Mississippi, for the nation and, in fact, for the whole world. Because, the ripples keep going.
Weve had to explain ourselves over the years, she said. What makes us different is our relationships. We embrace people. We just dont just help them get an understanding and get them money, we hold their hand. We bolster them up.
Women start businesses for different reasons and they run them differently, Byers added. They are more likely to offer benefits; more likely, by a small margin, to pay back their loans; and they have lower employee turnover.
While acknowledging that not everyone or situation is alike, she had a few important generalizations: When a man hires an employee, he hires an employee. And, when he fires an employee, he fires an employee, she said When a woman hires an employee, she takes someone into her family. She feels responsible for that person, and shes reluctant to fire. Shed rather work with that person.
In a recent survey of center representatives in both the South region and New England she asked, What brings clients in, and what keeps them coming back? She came across one of note: One of them said, They may forget what you tell them. They may forget what you did for them. But they will never forget how you make them feel.