Entrepreneurial spirit re-emerging in Aiken

Guest post by Aiken Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, J. David Jameson.

The Aiken Chamber Means Business – today and tomorrow.

Last year, the Aiken Chamber of Commerce created a 24-member Blue Ribbon Panel to identify the next big ideas for our community. The panel was comprised of Aiken’s best strategic thinkers who looked for best practices, innovations, and programs/projects that could add to quality of life and/or economic value to the Aiken area.

One topic that quickly appeared on the panel’s radar was entrepreneurism and the need to stimulate growth of new and ongoing ventures in our community. The topic became the impetus for one of the Chamber’s key initiatives for 2014 – Expand the Chamber’s Economic Vitality emphasis, including the following two items: • Explore and evaluate programs that develop and deliver experience-based entrepreneurship courses to youth • Create a program that fosters an entrepreneurial culture in young people, educators and the community while instilling personal, social and economic values The Chamber’s 2014 program of work begins a multiyear process that creates viable, proactive mechanisms that drive a force for Aiken’s prosperity in the 21st century.

The program of work is based on the need for public and private partnerships with a focus on those things that promote job creation and upward mobility.

Such public/private partnerships are already underway.

On April 1, the Aiken Chamber announced the launch of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a nationally recognized program that transforms middle and high school students into real, confident entrepreneurs over the course of an academic school year. Through the program, students set up, own and operate fullyformed and functioning businesses, which may be carried on after their graduation from the program.

The academy was established in 2004 and is the first of its kind in South Carolina and Georgia. The venture is a partnership of the Aiken Chamber, Aiken County Public Schools, and the University of South Carolina Aiken.

The Mill on Park is also a public/private partnership that supports economic vitality and focuses on Aiken’sfuture prosperity. The partners consist of Caradasa LLC, the University of South Carolina Aiken and the Aiken Small Business Development Center.

The Mill, set to open its doors this month, is a downtown Aiken office community. The 19,000-square-foot facility is located at the former Regions Bank operation center at the corner of Park Avenue and Laurens Street.

The Mill leases office space to those who may work at home or who don’t require larger office space; it can accommodate up to an office of five. Tenants have access to conference rooms, office equipment and other services as part of their monthly rent.

The goal of this new facility is to attract new microbusinesses, entrepreneurs and small, established firms.

Entrepreneurism has driven our community for almost 200 years; you may recall it was the railroad that led to the establishment of Aiken back in 1835. Lately, it seems, though, that our entrepreneurial drive has waned, or perhaps our community has gotten a little complacent about the future of this wonderful place we call home.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Blue Ribbon Panel work emphasizes entrepreneurism and the need for business growth and job creation.

The time to reawaken and to re-engage in our future is now. Get ready, folks. The entrepreneurial spirit is about to soar once again in Aiken.

The Aiken Chamber will always mean business.