HUMBOLDT — Small business owners and those thinking about going into business in Humboldt County now have a local resource they can count on for a wide variety of services.
Filling the new full-time role dedicated to expanding services from Humboldt County Development Association is Andrew “AJ” Flurey.
“There was a lot of gap that needed to be filled from a tourism, event and community networking standpoint,” said Flurey, who is still “working from scratch” to help create services to help small businesses thrive.
The Humboldt native and owner of Professional Septic Services has served as the lead operator for his own small company for the last few years, contracting with the city of Humboldt to oversee water and wastewater treatment. Additionally, he has also transformed empty storefront space on Sumner Avenue, turning it into income-generating retail space in his spare time.
Flurey said he knows firsthand the challenges of starting and running a small business, often needs unique from the services HCDA already provided more widely to large industries and employers in the area.
After the Humboldt County Chamber of Commerce dissolved at the end of 2019, HCDA director Alissa O’Connor said the organization and the city saw a need.
“We thought we needed to invest in small business development,” she said. “We’re excited because this gives us the opportunity to hone in on not only small business development but entrepreneurship and finding people interested in starting a business but unsure how to do it.”
In addition to standard promotional fare like ribbon cuttings, grand openings and anniversary celebrations, Flurey is there to help businesses and those thinking about going into business with bigger items like finding the right retail space, developing cash flow plans or approaching marketing. He will also take over organization of annual community events for CyHawk and the Fourth of July.
“I don’t want to say the main focus wasn’t (small business owners), but a lot of them just haven’t had anybody come in their door for 25 years,” Flurey said a month in to his new role, as he ventures out to meet new folks every day, aggregate data from them to learn more about their needs and learn how HCDA can help them even more effectively.
“It’s not just one person’s voice, it’s the community as a whole,” he said.
O’Connor said that data aggregated so far has helped formulate future programming, still in the works, to address needs like workforce availability and social media usage.
Now, Flurey’s putting some of the business lessons he learned the hard way to work as a resource for others, offering the vast majority of HCDA’s small business services for free to the public by pooling partnerships and resources at the local, state and federal level. The new position will work in concert with the city’s efforts to revitalize downtown Humboldt both visually and functionally.
“It’s great to do these aesthetic improvements, but who’s going to help on the business side and ensure customers come in?” O’Connor said, echoing public feedback the city has received during the revitalization efforts.
She said Flurey’s experience has been a perfect fit in the new role for his ability to relate to the trials and tribulations of business.
In small towns, Flurey said retail comes with its own set of challenges, particularly as they deal with the “A word.”
“Amazon is a challenge,” Flurey said, “We have to think out of the box (on how to beat them.)”
One unique service at HCDA helps new retailers connect with property managers and real estate agencies of retail spaces that fit their unique specifications — described as a type of “Google” for finding the right retail space.
In providing a wide variety of services, small business owners can help manage the inherent risk of business.
“There’s always going to be risk, but you’re limiting and controlling that risk,” Flurey said. “The availability of resources helps you manage risk.”
And with that, Flurey and O’Connor hope that the new position encourages small business that contributes to the diversity of business in the city and county of Humboldt.
“We certainly respect all businesses, but small business growth is important,” said O’Connor, who will continue to work with larger industries in Humboldt. “It’s important to be diverse, and I’m excited about the diversity we have in our community.”
She said HCDA recognizes that many large industries and businesses started out small at one point, highlighting the need to kindle interest in smaller ventures with potential.
Flurey, an eight-year veteran of the Iowa Army National Guard, came home after serving a tour in Afghanistan and living all over the country because he knew what his community had to offer. He says that if he hasn’t knocked on your small business door yet, he will soon.
“Humboldt’s a great place, and I know because I’ve been everywhere,” he said.