When it comes to providing a friendly environment for small-business owners, Columbia scored better than other major cities in South Carolina in a recent online survey, though the survey also uncovered areas that need improvement.
The capital city received an overall grade of B-plus in the survey conducted by Thumbtack, a website that connects local professionals. Columbia ranked 30th out of 80 cities and 12% better than last year.
South Carolina received an A rating overall. Charleston received a C and Greenville a B.
“The small-business owners we heard from in Columbia were 2% more positive about their city’s support for small business than the national average,” said Thumbtack economist Lucas Puente. “Compared to nearby cities, Columbia did generally better.”
The survey asked questions related to different categories of more than 13,000 small-business owners. Columbia received grades of A-plus in the ease of hiring, environmental and government website categories and a mark of A-minus in ease of starting a business, licensing, and employment, labor and hiring.
Health and safety received a C, while training and networking programs rated a grade of F for the second straight year after earning an A-minus in 2015.
Training and networking received the lowest grade statewide, posting a C. That was the only grade the state received below a B-minus.
“It looks like we have a real issue there,” said Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce. “You do have to work at networking.”
Knapp said organizations such as the Small Business Development Centers try to provide local outreach, but “communication is difficult. Even to the degree that there are training opportunities and workshops, it is extremely difficult to reach a small-business owner,” he said. “You have to be on an email list, and open rates aren’t great. If you’re not opening up your emails, and there’s an opportunity there, you’re not seeing it.
“I’m not blaming small-business owners. It’s hard to have workshop and training programs in a city that are going to be known by the entire small business community,” he said.
Even if a small-business owner knows of a networking or training event, Knapp said, he or she may not have time to attend.
“There are training opportunities available,” he said. “Maybe we need more. Maybe we need a different vehicle.”
However, Knapp said, startups often find obstacles they must overcome as they learn how to run a business in addition to providing products and services.
“Entrepreneurs want to start a business because they think they can be successful at it,” Knapp said, but some run into issues such as lack of capital or business acumen. “A lot of them won’t be successful. But the reason that they’re not going to be successful is probably not training and networking programs. There are other issues that they have.”
Chuck DiZinno, a high school math teacher from Batesburg who has a side business as a musician, participated in the survey. DiZinno plays violin and guitar and sings, and he said he’s put 64,000 miles on the car he bought last Thanksgiving traveling to gigs.
“I guess it would be easier if the tax code was simplified, but I end up getting most of my money back anyway because of mileage,” DiZinno said.
In Columbia, the tax code received a C-plus. Statewide, it garnered a B.
Columbia also received a C-plus in the regulations category and a B for zoning.
“All in all, three categories appear to be very good for the city of Columbia,” Knapp said. “What’s nice about a poll is it covers a lot of different types of businesses. It’s a good indication of the general community and their experience.”