Downtown Manassas will soon have a new program to help guide small business owners and entrepreneurs through a partnership between the city’s economic development authority and the George Mason University’s Small Business Development Center.

The decision by the authority’s board of directors earlier this month comes as the Flory Small Business Development Center near Manassas plans to discontinue operations at the end of December. The center opened in 1991. It is not clear if the board of directors will re-open the center, said Linda Decker, president and CEO of the Flory center since it opened.

“We had a successful 27-year run; we’re proud of that,” she said.  

Decker sent postcards to clients in September to announce her resignation, she said.

The Flory center would work with 100-170 clients a year. Decker said Manassas did the “right thing” to find a program to continue offering services to small business owners.

The Flory center’s past clients include Aurora Flight Sciences in Manassas, which announced plans earlier this year to build a $13.75 million expansion at its headquarters and create about 135 jobs.

Starting Jan. 7, George Mason University’s Mason Small Business Development Center will have staff one day a week at the CenterFuse co-working space in downtown Manassas to offer free guidance, said Patrick Small, the city’s economic development director. The Mason center is one of dozens of centers in Virginia. It serves Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William county residents.

The board of directors for the city’s Economic Development Authority approved a memorandum of understanding with the Mason center at its Nov. 20 meeting to provide funding so the center can open an office one day per week at Centerfuse, located at 9071 Center St.

The Mason center’s presence can expand in the future if demand justifies an increase in services, Small told city council members earlier this week.

The EDA has agreed to provide the center with $24,540 to cover the cost of a part-time advisor and other operating costs. The EDA’s portion will be funded though the city’s economic development operating budget. The center has agreed to fund $39,250 to pay for staff, training and other costs.

CenterFuse is providing a furnished office as an in-kind donation of $10,000, according to county staff.

The Mason center has offered free guidance, counseling or training to more than 6,000 clients since it began in 1987, according to its website. Mason’s center is funded through the university, the Virginia Small Business Development Center Network and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The Mason center has worked with 327 clients from the county, Manassas and Manassas Park since Jan. 1, 2016, according to data provided to the Manassas City Council.

“Without having a physical presence, without any advertising, that’s the amount of business they’re already doing in this greater Manassas region,” said Small.

The Mason center offers advice, counseling and training to start or grow a business. The center keeps track of capital formed, clients’ sales increases, loans obtained and amount of money an owner has invested in a business.

“Look at what they offer: procurement technical assistance program, all the counseling, group classes and expertise. Those things are very beneficial to the small business community,” Small said.

The Mason center staff being available at CenterFuse just means more resources in downtown Manassas, Small said.

“For a small business that wants to be located in CenterFuse, it will be literally right there in the same room, [with] all the counseling, mentoring and class opportunities,” he said.

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