By Carol Stiffler

Imagine the intersection of M-123 and M-28 without a functioning Pickleman’s Pantry.

Imagine Newberry without The Newberry News. Or Duke’s Sports Shop. Try Helmer without Moose du Nord.

The fact is, Newberry and its outlying regions look a lot more like itself because of behind-the-scenes financing from the Luce County Economic Development Corporation. Each of the businesses mentioned above are currently in operation because they received a loan from the EDC when they most recently sold to new owners.

Tammy Henry, executive director of the Luce County EDC, says her corporation has given nine new loans that saved or created 62 local jobs. In addition to writing loans, the EDC can help set budgets, draft business plans, and streamline operations for maximum profitability. Those services are free.

“Our mission is to save businesses, create jobs, and grow the area,” said Henry, who has led the EDC for four years. She’s spent 30 years running businesses and working with customers and is currently serving as board chair for the Newberry Area Chamber of Commerce.

Henry sees opportunity all over the place. The high-speed internet running from end to end of Newberry is ideal for a technology company, she thinks. The vacant Falls Hotel building would make a great bakery, cafe, and hospitality training center. The land adjacent to the EDC could house a gym with condos above it.

“What have you been passionate about? What have you wanted to do?” she asks. “If you have a dream, start now.”

Henry, who has led the EDC for four years, actively pursues new businesses and encourages entrepreneurs to launch here. Sometimes it doesn’t pan out, but she never gives up.

And when the business details do work out, the EDC can move quickly to get them up and running. Clients and potential business owners who need additional funding can see money in their bank account quickly – sometimes within 30 days of submitting a completed business plan.

That’s similar to what T.J. Blakely experienced when he purchased Eric’s Septic Service. He got the idea to purchase the company in January of 2018. By March 2018, he had a $50,000 loan from the EDC and ownership of the business.

Blakely was traveling the country working on underground electric lines when he heard about the business opportunity. It was personal – Eric Autterson, who started the business after graduating from high school in 2007, was Blakely’s best friend, so close he was practically family. Autterson died in an auto accident in 2008. The business sold to other owners, but 10 years later, it was back up for sale.

“I don’t know what came over me,” he said. “I didn’t have any money or anything.”

He approached two banks for a business loan and was rejected. His uncle recommended he try the EDC. “They didn’t really bat an eye,” he said. “It was really easy to work with the EDC.”
Business has been good. Blakely works year-round to empty septic tanks and clear clogged drain lines.

“Once you get past the fact that you’re working with poop, it’s not so bad,” he said. He works locally and in the surrounding region, with 25-30 percent of his business coming from Newberry customers with persistent tree roots that clog their main drains.

Blakely wonders what Autterson would think of him running the business. “I think he would be proud,” Blakely said. “I hope I can bring the business to where he would have had it by now.”