Mark Stewart has a vision to make “extreme customer service” the priority of the restructured Rhode Island Small Business Development Center.
His strategy is for the SBDC to develop close, one-on-one working relationships with businesses across the state through a team of three regional directors and three SBDC business counselors, moving from a consultancy model to one that uses in-house talent to create long-term relationships. He’s hiring a bilingual business counselor for one of those positions, to be available to the Latino community. Another will be a floater, working across the state.
PBN: What kind of accomplishments did you have in North Carolina that helped define your plans for Rhode Island?
STEWART: Rhode Island is a different culture and environment with different types of industries. I serviced two large counties, Halifax and Northampton counties, in North Carolina. Those two counties were larger than the state of Rhode Island. They had high dropout rates, high crime rates, very high unemployment and very low opportunity for economic development. I had to come up with a strategy to help people understand complex financials and business plans. I was put there to create economic opportunities in those counties. When I got there I saw that in the previous year, only one business had been created. I was there more than four years and during that time we created, I think, roughly about 98 businesses.
What’s the same is, you still have the core mission – you have people who have goals, who have ambitions and who have dreams, and my goal in Rhode Island is to assist people with their goals and ambitions and dreams and when their businesses thrive, it’s good for the state.