Highland News Leader

Want to start a business in Highland? Free help is available

The city of Highland is seeking new applicants for its innovative Highland Entrepreneurship Program (HEP), which focuses on mentoring new, and even experienced, business owners.

“This program offers a pool of mentors made up of successful business people in the area, along with other resources,” said Lisa Peck, Highland’s assistant city manager. “It’s not just for new business owners. It’s also for people who want to take their business to the next level.”

The program’s primary goal is to provide impartial business advice and encouragement to help companies launch, grow, and improve probabilities of success.

Each HEP participant is guided through the business process by a mentoring team of four to six individuals. The one-of-a-kind program is offered free of charge to entrepreneurs wishing to open or grow a business in Highland.

“The mentee retains control over all business decisions,” Peck said. “Sometimes there is some resistance if people think they (the mentors) are going to come in and tell them how to run their business, but that’s not the case.”

Ultimately, the goal of the Highland Entrepreneurship Program is to revitalize and enhance the spirit for innovation that Highland has been known for more than 175 years.

It’s not just for new business owners. It’s also for people who want to take their business to the next level.

Lisa Peck, Highland assistant city manager

In fact, the program was what ultimately helped save the Lory Theater.

When the Lory Theater went up for sale, Justin and Hillary McLaughlin expressed interest in buying it. But this was a big step for a young couple.

“We had a small two-person, home theater installation business for 10 years, and it was an extreme week-to-week struggle. We got as big as we could get,” Justin said.

But the city, through its program, was able to provide resources for them so the couple could maximize their opportunities for success.

“Before we knew it, we were at city hall, and they were asking us if they could give us guidance. They told us could we do this,” Justin said.

The McLaughlins started the program toward the end of 2011.

“We went through the program for a year,” Justin said.

The city is pro-business. Our city said, ‘Who can we help teach how to own this business?’ They are interested in growing companies, not just doing it themselves.

Justin McLaughlin, owner of the Lory Theater

They’d meet weekly with mentors to teach them the ins and outs of owning a large business. By December 2012, they were ready.

“Our mentor was essential. We looked at many studies that were needed to make (the business) work. And we dove into the nitty-gritty details. It was very blunt, and they weren’t pulling any punches. They told us things like, ‘If you do this, you will fail. Don’t take it personally. These are numbers, not personal attacks,’ ” Justin said, adding he recommends business owners take advantage of the free service.

“The city is pro-business. Our city said, ‘Who can we help teach how to own this business?’ They are interested in growing companies, not just doing it themselves,” he said. “Even now, I could call the city manager or mayor and ask for help. I feel like that’s an open door for me.”

If you are interested in the program, contact Highland Assistant City Manager, Lisa Peck, at (618) 654-3592 for additional information.

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