Luring small businesses to Wilmington

 (file photo/WHYY)

(file photo/WHYY)

Growing small businesses and finding innovative ways to develop the workforce in Delaware continues to be a top priority for the state.

Recently, the state hosted its annual Governor’s Entrepreneurial & Small Business Conference and, according to Governor Jack Markell, D-Delaware, the state is constantly looking for innovative ways to grow the workforce.

In Wilmington, resources are constantly made available to help small businesses grow and thrive.

Levitea, a tea bar and loose leaf tea shop, which sits on the corner of 9th and Tatnall Streets, jumped on the opportunity to add to the local economy.  The shop is in an area where the city is investing in revitalization. But outside of that, the owner, Tynisha Lomax, is focused on something new and different with Levitea.

“Levitea is based on the idea of an American tea…because that does not exist. I think that most other cultures in the world have a tea culture but America does not, except for maybe sweet tea in the South and a few other very targeted things. But nothing is our American tea culture so that’s what this whole venture is about.”

“I always tell people this is my first rodeo so I’m learning as I go and I have a ton of support, especially from my regular customers,” Lomax said.

Small businesses like Levitea are what the city is trying to attract, to fill up vacancies along the downtown district.

“Small business is important because it produces jobs here in the city and it generates wealth for our Wilmington citizens. So we are focused not only on generating small businesses organically here in the city for our residents but also even folks who may not live in the city but come here to start small business,” said director of Wilmington’s Office of Economic Development, Jeff Flynn.

According to Flynn, his department sees a wide range of people regarding small businesses.  Some with ideas and plans of starting a business but no funding. Others may already be in business but experiencing some type of challenge.  Whatever the case, the office offers a number of resources for small businesses, to ensure entrepreneurs stay open. Another goal is to promote growth in the city, which is considered one of the top places to start a business.

“I think that we have lower barriers to entry here in Wilmington and we have access to government and we definitely, compared to Philadelphia and New York City, we have lower costs of doing business. So I think those are advantages,” Flynn said.

Fusions Taster’s Choice, Delaware’s first olive oil and balsamic vinegar store took advantage of the opportunity offered in Wilmington to start a small business. The idea came from sampling olive oil and comparing the one purchased from a specialty store to an olive oil supermarket brand.

“It just didn’t taste good so I said, ‘Oh let me do some research. First let me find a store in Delaware that sells the same thing.’ I did my research, and found it didn’t exist,” said Fusions owner, Delores Waddell.

That was all the motivation needed to open the store but as the owner learned; operating a small business is not easy.

“Just being a small business owner, it is extremely hard, you don’t have that opportunity to hit the floor running, it takes money to make money and that’s the reality,” Waddell said.

The good news is as Fusions Taster’s Choice approaches its two year anniversary, the owner said business is doing well even though she continues to wear many hats.

“You become the chief, the engineer, the marketing director, the sales force, all of those titles. I am that – slice me and dice me,” Waddell said.

Meanwhile, city officials continue to encourage people with ideas and a plan to start up a business or seek help if things become a bit too challenging. In fact, there are programs designed to walk people through the basics of small business. Levitea and Fusions are examples of what the city would like to attract.

“Come to this office we’ll tell you what we think is the best way for you to get your idea onto paper and maybe we’ll set you up with a consultant to get there,” Flynn said.

For anyone interested in starting a small business, there’s a program called the Small Business Success Series which consists of classes held over a nine month period and officials are currently taking applications for it. Just call the city’s economic development for more details, 302-576-2120.

Also tune into WHYY’s First tonight at 5:30 p.m. for the full story.

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