"Business First" helps struggling businesses survive, grow

By Heather Sullivan - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - While many businesses are barely surviving the recession, a local program is helping some pull through, even expand in these hard times. The Greater Richmond Partnership runs a program called "Business First," which pairs struggling companies with local agencies that can help them for free. GRP says it helped local companies create 555 jobs last year and save nearly 1800 jobs.

The Greater Richmond Partnership says it interviews hundreds of local businesses to find out what challenges they're facing. Then they match the businesses with local agencies that can solve the problem.

Things weren't always as bright as the brightly colored signs at Graphics Gallery in Glen Allen. The company, that makes signs for local businesses, was on the verge of closing. Said founder Steve Samuel, "In January of this year, we started with 26 people. We had to go down to 18."

But they had a new product they call "Image Exchange" -- graphics printed on fabric. Explained Samuel, "Once you have the frame, you can change out the fabric and the shipping cost is much lower."

But Graphics Gallery had no money to pay a marketing firm thousands of dollars for a plan to market Image Exchange internationally. So GRP paired Graphics Gallery with business school students at the University of Richmond and Virginia Tech.

Said Samuel, "They did a marketing research study. They interviewed actual retailers and said 'would a system like this be beneficial to you and your operation?'"

Sara Dunnigan, vice president of GRP's Existing Business Services says the "Business First" program helps companies overcome whatever issues they face. "We have resources to help companies in growing their sales, like Graphics Gallery, obtaining financing for their business, addressing workforce issues, whether that's bringing new workers on board or training the workers they've got."

The result for Graphics Gallery? New fabric signs are hanging in airports, museums, and businesses all over the world. And it saved the company. Said Samuel, "I'm happy to report because we are very busy right now. Last week we hired two more people."

This year, the Greater Richmond Partnership says the "Business First" program will help more than 100 local businesses expand, adding 1,600 new jobs and investing $88 million.

Businesses who need help can call the Greater Richmond Partnership's "Business First" program at (804) 343-6968.

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