This article was originally published in the November 2017 Princeton Echo.

Anthony Carabelli Jr.

Going into business for yourself is exciting, but it can be intimidating. There’s so much to know, so much to do, and so many surprises. Even for existing businesses, knowing how to grow and thrive can be confusing.

Fear not, the Mercer County Office of Economic Development and Sustainability is here to help. Through a variety of business development programs and workshops, our office helps build and grow successful, sustainable businesses large and small.

It’s a message we like to get out as much as possible. Sometimes it’s as easy as a conversation while exchanging business cards at a networking event. Sometimes I’m invited to speak before a business group, where budding entrepreneurs in need of guidance sit next to seasoned business owners looking for more opportunities.

On Tuesday, November 14, at 8 a.m., I’ll be doing the latter, as the featured speaker at the Princeton Merchants Association’s monthly member meeting at the Nassau Inn. The PMA is a terrific platform from which to talk about the services and programs Mercer County and our office have to offer. Connecting with the business community, after all, is about talking with the members of that community — and talking with those who strive to be part of that community.

So just what does our office have to offer? Well, let’s start with guidance. Our office promotes and assists businesses interested in the Mercer County Clerk’s Office’s Business Trade Name Certificate Program. Filing the business name is one of the first steps in getting your business up and running and is a required document for opening a business checking account.

Our office also provides business assistance through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the College of New Jersey for programs in English and Spanish, the latter through the New Jersey Latino Business Center. Programs such as “How to Start a Business from A-Z” or “Financing Your Business” have helped countless businesses get their footing, while programs such as “Doing Business in Mercer County” help established businesses navigate the process of contracts and bidding with Mercer County.

Contracting with the county, by the way, is not as scary as it might sound. For large contracts there might be a lengthy bidding process, but many county contracts are small and require a quote and proposal. Often, someone I meet at a networking event provides a service the county needs, and I will e-mail that businessperson to see if they’re interested in bidding on a contract.

One of our most valuable but lesser-used programs is our site selection service. This is where we provide reports on market trends and locations for businesses that need to figure out where to physically do business. We talk to real estate brokers and businesses alike to help companies find the best fit here in Mercer County.

Our office also helps fund programs through the Mercer County One-Stop Career Center for businesses looking to train new employees. Businesses can get up to $4,000 over the first six months of employment to help cover the costs of getting a new hire up to speed with the company.

For established businesses looking to get more involved with international trade, there’s the Foreign Trade Zone, a federal program offered through Mercer County that shows companies that import foreign goods how they can reduce or even eliminate duty fees.

And because money is always the central issue when it comes to business, Mercer County wants to make sure business owners know where they can save it and find it. That’s why we offer the Mercer County Loan Fund through the Regional Business Assistance Corporation. Loan packages from $25,000 to $250,000 are available to qualified businesses based within Mercer County. And if that’s not for you, the Office of Economic Development and Sustainability can help you find loan programs through other local lenders.

The important thing to keep in mind is that building better businesses is what builds better business communities; and building better business communities starts with putting businesspeople in touch with the information, programs, and opportunities they might not know about. That’s why I talk to so many people at networking events and why I’m grateful to have the opportunity to talk to the business community through the PMA.

If you’re interested in becoming part of the dynamic business community in Princeton or in Mercer County, you can call the Office of Economic Development and Sustainability at 609-989-6555 or visit us at mercercounty.org.