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5 Questions with Rich Grogan, New Hampshire Small Business Development Center

Rich Grogan has been on the run since early last spring, when he became the state director for the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center, a job to which he brings experience and enthusiasm. It’s always good to catch up with him and especially for small business owners here in New Hampshire, he and the SBDC are great resources about which you should know.

Rich Grogan

Rich Grogan

1. Congratulations on becoming state director of the NH SBDC! You’ve been in the position for over six months now – what’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned in that time?

Thank you! I’m thrilled to be in my new role, and I’m fortunate to take over for Mary Collins, who left us in a very strong position. She is missed by everyone I meet, but knowing Mary, she’ll continue to work on her many passions around the state going forward.

With respect to surprises, I knew our staff was outstanding but I had no idea how dedicated they are every day to work on behalf of New Hampshire’s businesses. Everyone has been eager for collaboration to build businesses in New Hampshire. I was also surprised at the strength of our National ASBDC network. Other state directors in particular are willing and eager to reach out and support new folks coming into these positions; that has been helpful and appreciated.

Finally, I knew our reputation was strong in the Monadnock Region, where I worked as part of the SBDC at Keene State College, but I was thrilled to find that this reputation extends throughout the state.

2. You’re a North Carolina native who first joined the New Hampshire SBDC as the Keene regional manager three years ago. What do you find particularly compelling about New Hampshire, as it pertains to small business success?

I’m from Winston-Salem, which was hollowed out in the 1980s by the loss of Wachovia Bank, textiles, furniture manufacturing, and rounds of layoffs at the City’s largest corporation, RJ Reynolds Tobacco. What I witnessed as I spent time in the city during college, and visiting since, is the power of small businesses to slowly bring an economy back; Winston-Salem is now roaring. That foundation has propelled me into my current work.

What I find distinct about New Hampshire is the entrepreneurial spirit that exists in everyone, and I mean truly everyone. In my role at Keene State, I met people with very full time jobs who had something they were designing on the side, or a plan to become a consultant utilizing their corporate skills, or similar. This is just amazing to me – we have so much talent across all demographics in New Hampshire that is just waiting to be unleashed!

One of the reasons I love my job now is that as soon as I say what I do, people want to talk to me about their business ideas; they could be 30 or 80, and they are still thinking and working on a better way to do something, a better process, or a business model that they think could work. It opens up a completely different conversation than we otherwise would have had – such an interesting way to be in the world.

3. The NH SBDC is a cooperative venture of the US SBA and the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, among other organizations. What does the NH SBDC do for businesses that isn’t already done or offered by the SBA or DRED?

Thanks for highlighting the cooperative nature of our program. Many people don’t realize that we are hosted by the Paul College at the University of New Hampshire and are a cooperative venture of SBA and DRED. I personally think that having all of these as invested stakeholders makes our program stronger, and we get to be a part of multiple teams, all working for the betterment and growth of New Hampshire’s economy.

What we do for businesses as SBDC is really get under the hood with clients, working right beside them over a long-term horizon on all aspects of their business. This includes business plans, preparing to seek capital, building an accounting system, setting a marketing strategy, determining when to hire additional employees, etc. Our suite of services is broad, which means that our staff has to be agile and have multiple threads of intelligence to be able to tackle all of these subjects. The best part is, our services are of no cost to the business owner!

We work a little differently with SBA than with DRED. We are funded through SBA at the federal level, and are an official resource partner. This links us into a network of other SBA resource partners, and allows us to collaborate in ways that are mutually beneficial. For example, the SBA organizes commercial lender roundtables across the state, which helps the SBA understand the lending environment and helps us to understand how we can better serve businesses in a given region. We also share information, work to recognize outstanding businesses, and collaborate on events, such as the upcoming Small Business Matchmaker in December.

The Matchmaker is a good segue to our relationship with DRED, as PTAP (Procurement Technical Assistance Program for government contracting support) is also a partner in that event. This three-way partnership is also a good example, I think, of the difference in New Hampshire … we are so collaborative here.

DRED is also a funding partner, and we work closely with the Division of Economic Development’s resource specialists in the field. The resource specialists are experts at the resources the State of New Hampshire can bring to bear to assist small business growth, and often they will bring the SBDC in to provide technical assistance as part of a broader project to help a business succeed. I like to think that SBDC’s expertise is also a selling point for DRED’s efforts to recruit businesses into the state. We also refer clients to DED who need assistance with understanding statewide resources as a complement to our technical advising. Of course, we love interacting with our DRED colleagues throughout the organization, but we are certainly most closely in sync with DED.

4. Can you share a recent success story or two that illustrate the kind of assistance the NH SBDC provides to small businesses?

I am going to use my answer to this question to shamelessly plug our new website, which went live a couple of weeks ago. The site has clear links to our ongoing catalog of client stories, which highlight the kind of successes about which you asked. One of the wonderful things about our organization is that we work with an incredibly wide range of businesses, so our successes range from manufacturers in the North Country to technology firms in Nashua, and everything and everywhere in between. It is most interesting for me to see us work with, for example, an anchor employer in a community, as I did in Keene, and also work with a retailer that may sell that company’s products in the same town. It’s like getting a glimpse into a rich picture of the diversity of a local economy.

I also want to say a bit about what success means to us. For SBDC, since we work with clients for such a long time, many of our individual days don’t end with a huge splash. Rather, it is victory to see a client get some traction on their marketing plan, start up successfully with a strong foundation, access capital they have been working towards for several months, or any number of similar moves forward. These don’t always create big headlines, but they are cumulative … they are the nuts and bolts of building, sustaining, and growing a small business, and it takes an approach like the SBDC’s to eventually get to that big headline.

5. What’s exciting/interesting/important on the horizon for the NH SBDC?

We are always moving forward at the SBDC and we’ll only be amplifying that culture moving forward. This has been an internally-focused year for us because of a leadership transition (me), a couple of new hires, and our national accreditation this month, which builds continuous improvement into our program. In the coming year, our stakeholders and clients across the state will see the introduction of new e-learning courses, more resources in the field, and a new look and feel for SBDC. As a staff, we’ll be working on a new strategic plan in the first half of 2016, about which I’m very excited. I want us to transition to a short, nimble plan that we can all own and deploy, and that is integrated with the outstanding work that our partners are doing, such as DRED and SBA. Stay tuned!

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