At least 150 local new and aspiring business owners gathered at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Tuesday for the 7th annual “We Mean Business” expo, an event that provided attendees with a unique opportunity to get a better idea of how to successfully grow – or start – their companies.
Rhode Island’s Secretary of State, A. Ralph Mollis, Gov. Lincoln Chafee and the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation welcomed about 75 venders who were on hand to offer free advice and guidance on licensing, permitting, financing, and other useful business-related matters.
“It’s a place where we bring local, state, federal and non-profit agencies under one roof,” Mollis said in an interview. “We have seminars and workshops, including what’s called ‘Smart Start.’”
With “Smart Start,” businesses and entrepreneurs interested in learning more about how to manage and enhance their companies were able to meet with attorneys and accountants for expert advice about topics such as filings, patents, trademarks, tax documentation and federal identification numbers. Marketing and web design experts were also available.
“It’s a very valuable tool to help them get their idea off the ground and create some jobs,” Mollis said. “It’s a great start. And the face-to-face interaction makes such a difference. Vendors are able to answer specific questions one-on-one.”
Gil Lantini, president of the Rhode Island Small Business Journal, conducted a workshop about social media, while the State Fire Marshal’s Office made a presentation on fire codes. During the event, Jim Bruckshaw, program manager of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s 21(d) Consultation, a project that provides small- to medium-size private businesses free and confidential services by identifying hazards, educated people on how to best keep their companies and employees protected.
“We provide them with information so that people don’t get hurt,” he said as he showcased a digital fire simulator, which Mollis enjoyed testing. “Regulations require employers to ensure that their employees know not only where the extinguishers are, but how to use them. We help them meet that standard.”
Aside from Bruckshaw, other venders such as Edgar Moya and Yesenia Peguero assisted businesses owners. They remind guests that Telemundo, Rhode Island’s sole Spanish television station, offers an effective media outlet for Latinos, while Joel Abrizio, president and CEO of Adlife Office, a first class advertising agency that deals with corporations that aim to take goods and services and make them more accessible to consumers, said Rhode Island is the perfect place to start a business.
The company recently relocated their corporate office from Norwood, Mass., to Pawtucket because they believe the Ocean State is a friendly business climate. With a location on Bald Hill Road, they will soon open another on Westminster Street in Providence.
“We think it’s a very comfortable state to do business,” Abrizio said. He anticipates adding more than 70 jobs to Rhode Island in the coming months.
Future business owners Christopher Amatayakul and Nathan Burnham said the event was an eye-opener, as they are on the brink of opening a business, CNC Services. Their goal is to provide various cleaning services to restaurants, including hood cleaning, pest control, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) needs.
“This is great because everyone that we need to talk to is here,” Amatayakul said, while Burnham added, “They gave us advice when we needed it.”
Reynold Hull Jr., who is thinking about opening a charter bus service in Providence, agreed.
“I came here to get direction and a general knowledge on how to start my own business, and I did get that accomplished,” he said.
While many other business owners said the event was helpful, Bruckshaw believes it was beneficial to vendors, as well. He described it as a “win-win situation.”
“We wind up working with small businesses and the small businesses wind up learning the requirements of what they need to do,” he said.
In case new and aspiring business owners missed the event, Mollis said they are welcome to visit the Secretary of State’s Office at 148 West River Street in Providence, which regulates business in Rhode Island. The office started the “First Stop Information Center,” a place for people to learn more about getting their businesses off the ground. The center also prompted the theme for the expo.
“We thought it would be a great idea to make it a one-day venue where businesses can go,” Mollis said. “If anybody wants to open up a business, that should definitely be their first stop. I also encourage them to visit our website at sos.ri.gov.”