By Riley Morningstar

The Journal

SENECA — A local nonprofit advocate for small businesses has donated $5,000 to the Neighbors Helping Neighbors fund, and its chairman is encouraging others to join in the cause.

Tri-County Entrepreneurial Development Corporation chairman Dave Eldridge talks during an interview at The Journal office about a recent donation to the Neighbors Helping Neighbors fund. (Savannah Blake | The Journal)

Tri-County Entrepreneurial Development Corporation (TCEDC) chairman Dave Eldridge dropped off the check Tuesday at The Journal’s office, calling the fund “innovative” in helping local businesses in marketing.

“I thought it was a very innovative approach,” he said. “I see it as a way to help the newspaper do a great thing for those small businesses. … I see it as a way to be a good neighbor to step up and have another way to help our small businesses to survive, because it’s tough out there.”

TCEDC is a nonprofit organization that counsels small companies to develop business plans and frequently collaborates with the Oconee Economic Alliance and local SCORE chapter to achieve its mission. Eldridge said the TCEDC also operates the Oconee Business Center, a small business incubator designed to support businesses during the startup and early growth period.

Through Neighbors Helping Neighbors, The Journal pledged the first $50,000 to help businesses that need marketing assistance by drawing from a pool of donations. All donations will be set aside and matched dollar for dollar by The Journal. The money will help the owners of local companies rebuild their businesses by reconnecting with their existing customers and attracting new customers.

More than $8,000 has been donated to the fund in less than six days.

“In a week, we’ll touch more people than any other single source in this county,” Journal general manager Hal Welch said. “The number of people that read this paper is astonishing. The response from the public and early results is phenomenal. People like Dave and his team, they do a great job and work with a lot of businesses that probably need our help.”

The service offered by The Journal is one small business owners don’t often consider or have the luxury to spend money on, Eldridge said. By signing up to be in the program, more small businesses can get the message out about their services through marketing.

“In today’s world, getting the word out about what your business is and what you’re doing is extremely important,” Eldridge said. “In this period of time they’ve been shut down, if they weren’t thinking about marketing beforehand, they’re definitely not going to be thinking about that now. The newspaper is offering a platform for those small businesses to get their word out.”

Outside of donating money to the fund, Eldridge said the nonprofit is working with small businesses to develop contingency plans for the future.

Eldridge, who has decades of economic development experience in the public and private sector, is encouraging other businesses and residents thriving during the pandemic to help their small business neighbors. Grocery stores and home improvement chains are among the industries seeing a boost in sales amid the pandemic.

“They’ve done well, and I’d like to see them step up to the plate and donate some to help these other small businesses as well,” Eldridge said. “Any of those businesses that have done well — step up and join us in making a contribution.”

With economic uncertainty swirling, Eldridge encouraged small businesses who are eligible to apply to join the program.

“What I’ve noticed with the smaller businesses is they may be able to survive closing down completely for maybe a month. They just don’t have the capital that bigger organizations have available to them,” he said. “The small business owner is scared to death. When are things going to come back with some kind of a normal, and what is that normal going to be? They can’t get their hands around what is going to be the solution.”

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