A trip to South Georgia provided a perfect opportunity for UGA President Jere W. Morehead to see firsthand how the Small Business Development Center is helping rural communities prosper.
Carroll’s Sausage and Meats owner Hugh Hardy Jr. gave Morehead a tour of his processing plant and retail store, located just off I-75 in Ashburn. The new facility opened in 2012 with help from the Albany regional office of the SBDC, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach.
Since Hardy purchased the business in 2001, gross sales have increased from around $250,000 per year to about $6 million this year and Hardy’s workforce has expanded to close to 50 employees, more than 10 times as many as when he started. He now has locations in Ashburn, Sylvester, Thomaston and Albany. He closed the original Sycamore location when he moved to Ashburn in 2012.
Hardy expanded his business on I-75 in Ashburn with the help of David Dunn, an SBDC consultant in Albany, and Albany Area SBDC Director Debbie Finney. Dunn helped Hardy develop a business plan and put together a low-interest loan application that resulted in more than $1 million to develop the former manufacturing facility into his largest retail store and processing facility for his famous sausage recipes. Today Consultant Finney, along with Bill Boone, SBDC Entrepreneur Development Specialist, continues to work with Hardy on marketing and strategic growth of the business.
The new location is nearly eight times as large as the original store and has room for more inventory, larger meat cases and a greater variety of products, Hardy said. It also allowed him to add a deli with a hot-food counter.
“When a business wants to grow we have a lot of resources to help them grow,” Finney said. “Sometimes consulting can be a transaction, but what we strive for is be more transformational. Many clients we’ve worked with for a number of years. The fun part is working with businesses that are always working ON their business, not just IN the business.”
Morehead, who has visited several SBDC-assisted businesses throughout the state, acknowledged the SBDC’s efforts to help UGA stay true to its mission as a land- and sea-grant institution.
“The SBDC provides a range of vital services to entrepreneurs and small business owners, who are the backbone of our state’s economy,” Morehead said. “Whether by helping start a new business or grow an existing one, the SBDC is promoting economic development in communities throughout Georgia, which is a key part of our mission as a land- and sea-grant university.”
For Hardy and Finney, a visit from the president of the state’s flagship university is a significant event.
“UGA has a huge reputation in South Georgia,” Finney said. “For (Morehead) to see the good work that we do is important to us. Hugh was very happy and impressed that he would take the time and visit his location.”