Local Highlight: Hilltown Business Hub

Support for Local Businesses though the HCDC

Across the hilltowns, there is a network of folks who love to serve the needs of their community. They love to see folks succeed, and they are here to do what they can to help. The Hilltown Community Development Company (HCDC) is one of many Community Development programs across the nation, but what makes these folks different is their dedication to our region, to the towns that make up this liminal space we call the Hilltowns.

The HCDC is actively running programs to support our community. Their projects range from renovating old homes and offering low income housing, to helping local food producers network with hungry hilltowners, and organizing a van service for folks to get to their essential appointments. Their goal is to encourage growth and prosperity for the rural Hilltowns, bolster social services, and they act as an essential tool for many businesses. Their work has been a key to success within our local economy.

Before and After, a project in Cummington, installing a new roof and vinyl siding

CDC programs around the country owe their inception to the actions of the late Bobby Kennedy. Bobby attached the Special Impact Program to the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA), which was then signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. This amendment made space for community development, especially in low income areas. An act that in turn paved the way for the first CDC programs, many of which saw their inception during the Civil Rights movement as a way to push back against the issues folks faced in cities across the country. These organizations are self identified, not government designated or run, non-profit corporations for the enrichment of specific communities or locations.

There is more need for these programs than ever before. In Massachusetts alone, there are roughly 60 such organizations currently. Most of these are regionally based, often focusing on centers of commerce and serving large population densities. In Western MA, that means there is a focus on counties and cities – but anyone who lives in the hills can tell you we fall between many of those lines. “The Hilltowns” represent folks who live in four different counties, and while the cities are the hubs to the North, South, East, and West, the Hilltowns are still a unique and diverse group of people whose needs can get lost. It might not make sense for a fresh entrepreneur to seek resources in the organizations that serve those larger hubs, and those organizations are usually happy to network and help Hilltowners where they can, but the issues that folks face out here are inherently different.

The HCDC is able to act as both a springboard for success to new ventures for business and residents located in the hilltowns, as well as help provide ongoing promotion and access to funding through grants and state programs for existing organizations. For the budding business they offer a diverse suite of learning opportunities, programs, and even one on one business planning with talented and qualified people like Michele Kenney.

Michele is the Economic Development Coordinator at the HCDC, she’s been employed there for the last 6 years and has been working hard to provide assistance to ensure small, local, businesses succeed. She has made great improvements to the existing programs and helped launch their Business Directory this year. One of the accomplishments she is most proud of is being able to offer these business classes for free, through Hilltown Business Hub. Working with the Mass Growth Capital Corporation, who provides much of the funding for the HCDC, she was able to allocate funding to defray the fees that used to fall on struggling business owners.

Now you can jump into class with qualified experts in various fields, business consultants who make a living offering these services to large companies, who can offer their knowledge to business owners right here in the Hilltowns. Many of the classes are still virtual, but in-person classes have started up again at their center in Chester. Demand for their services are constant, with well over 100 participants in their classes since September. And that makes sense when you consider the shifting markets, the need to stay current with marketing, the latest edition of Quickbooks, or even just a refresher course on business basics.

Michele was so excited to share the success stories of locals, and to expand on how much her stable of consultants had to offer.

She mentioned the most popular classes might be on social media marketing and digital sales, offered by Robyn Miller. Robyn works with big business on everything branding and marketing. She’s a big fish in our small pond, and quite a resource to learn from, for free.

Michele also gushed about Rosemarie Goyette’s willingness to work with folks on their Quickbooks, even if they are still using outdated versions. She knows them all, and is willing to go the extra mile with folks. Michele called it a bonus third class – if you attend in person, Rosemarie is known to just sit down with folks and help with their books right there.

Michele talked about the many faces and fresh businesses she’s seen come through. Often she gets to know folks through regular attendance, people excited about working on their projects, who go to a bunch of classes until one day she finds they have stopped attending because their successful ventures require their full attention. From contracting to personal care products, there are markets to be tapped.

Some of her favorite participants are younger folks, most often recent graduates who are considering their options. People who have a talent or vocation but don’t know how to take the steps to start their own enterprise. People who don’t know the principles of products, customers, and finances. Her youngest entrepreneur was in 4th grade, who loved to attend the meetings, and had big plans for his tractor.

Follow this link to find a full listing of Upcoming Classes

Think you might need a bit more attention, or don’t think a class on SEO is quite what you need? Apply for one-on-one business consulting, if approved you’ll work with a consultant who helps generate an action based plan for progress, and will work with you to make sure you have a solid foundation for your future business.

The HCDC can also help with things like grants, she mentioned a Biz-Empower matching grant* where capital campaigns can be matched at a 2 to 1 ratio, when businesses rase up to $20,000 for a grand total of $80,000. She also mentioned a Empower Digital grant* of up to “$5,000 for digital services and up to $5,000 for digital capacity-building capital expenses.” 10k is a lot for a new business to get its feet under it, and the HCDC is here to make sure you have the best shot at it.

These are the sorts of resources that help a community grow. By teaching folks how to help themselves, by providing access to funding they couldn’t receive alone, and by investing time and money into infrastructure that will continue to help those in need for years to come. Michele is doing some incredibly good work over at the HCDC, and she’s just one part of the whole vision. See what they have to offer, you will undoubtedly find something.

If you would like to find out more about the HCDC you can head on over to the HCDC Website

If you’d like to perouse upcoming class listings,

just follow this link to the Hilltown Business Hub

*Both of these grant programs require that the applicant be in business for a least a year, and that the business is the applicants main source of income, as evidenced on their income tax forms.