The efforts of Virginia Beach Economic Development and the Small Business Development Center of Hampton Roads were honored with an Outstanding Achievement in Innovation Award at the Alliance for Innovation's Transforming Local Government Conference held in Atlanta, Georgia, from April 10-12. Warren Harris, Virginia Beach Director of Economic Development, accepted the Outstanding Achievement in Innovation Award for GrowSmart, an early childhood education program recognized for its impact on the future workforce and the economic vitality of the City. During the conference, Karen Kehoe, GrowSmart Coordinator; Marcy Sims, Director of Libraries; Jerry Stewart, Workforce Development Coordinator; and Lauren Small, Business Analyst with the Small Business Development Center of Hampton Roads (SBDC), gave a session presentation titled "What if the Decisions You Make Today Saved $2 Billion by 2030?"
In 2009, through innovative partnerships and a grant from Smart Beginnings South Hampton Roads, the Small Business Development Center of Hampton Roads (SBDC) created a business development program targeted to early education childcare centers as sustainable small businesses. The year-long SBDC Early Education Business Mentoring complements quality initiatives in early education through the systematic implementation of strong best business practices in our early education businesses. The program provides business owners a combination of industry specific small business management training, as well as intensive one-on-one mentoring. By helping the businesses to operate more efficiently, owners and directors are able to devote more time to improving the quality of instruction to children in their care. The program aims to improve financial stability of the centers, increase marketing capability, reduce employee turnover and implement best business practices.
The SBDC Early Education Business Program began in Virginia Beach and provided training and counseling to 25 centers. In 2011 and 2012, the program expanded to include Chesapeake, Norfolk and Suffolk. Centers that graduated from the year-long business development program in 2012 increased revenues by 16% and increased their enrollment by 28%.
Lauren Small of the SBDC, said, “Our research supports that early education is a workforce development issue. Those early years are when brain development occurs and are critical for setting children up for success in school and life.”
Studies show that every $1 spent on early childhood education returns $7 to $10 in community benefits. Another study found that quality early education provides Virginians with $2 billion in benefits over 17 years, including reduced needs for special education, child welfare and grade retention, fewer juvenile and adult crimes, higher earnings by parents and increased tax collections.
Heather Newton, co-owner of Bullfrogs and Butterflies Preschool and Kindergarten in Virginia Beach, participated in the program in 2011. She said that the training and counseling helped her center develop a marketing plan to better promote their business and programs. Newton said, “We went from an enrollment of 23 children in the fall 2010 to 50 children by the spring 2011. By the fall of 2012, we had 64 children enrolled.” Newton attributes the growth in numbers as a direct result of the success of the SBDC program. She was taught how critical it is to properly run a business, not just teach children in the classroom. Newton explains that once their school was branded with a new website and a new logo, the phone started ringing on a regular basis and families wanted to tour the center. Through the program, she also learned how to "close the deal" on a walk-through. "It was an amazing program and we are so thankful we got a letter from Lauren Small and the SBDC inviting us to participate,” she said. “The return on our investment of our personal time to participate in the SBDC program was exponential.”
Small, along with William Davenport of the SBDC, work with education coordinators in the four Hampton Roads cities to provide this program to local early childhood education centers.