By Ivey Schofield
One day after her father died, Pamela Young-Jacobs received a call. The person on the other line asked a business question only her father – a man she describes as “one with the earth” – would know.
Young-Jacobs cried that day in the office of her newly inherited construction company. Then she got to work, ultimately finding the answer through her own research.
Two decades later, Young-Jacobs is helping other entrepreneurs build successful small businesses.
As director of the small business center at Southeastern Community College in Columbus County, Young-Jacobs assists others to create budgets, market their products, and bolster their business plans.
Since starting her job at the college last year, Young-Jacobs has helped about 106 people. Seventeen of them went on to create new businesses.
“My goal in doing this is to legitimately help as many people as I can,” she said. “I want to make our college look good. I want to make our county look good.”
In Columbus County, about 265 businesses were created in the first six months of 2022 – a 21% increase from the same period in 2021, according to data from the office of North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.
That’s the biggest increase in the Border Belt region. The number of new businesses in Scotland County jumped by 10%, while it dropped about 7% in Bladen and Robeson counties, data shows.
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Forming businesses has a direct impact on the local economy, said Sylvia Cox, vice president of Southeastern Community College. That’s why it’s important for hopeful entrepreneurs to have guidance from someone like Young-Jacobs, who has business experience.
“Beginning a small business can be challenging,” Cox said, “and having a local contact like Pamela Young-Jacobs can make the process less overwhelming.”
Sharing her knowledge
When she was 12, Young-Jacobs started to help her father maintain his business ledger, writing down every employee’s gross and net pay. After she graduated high school and started a family of her own, she continued to help her father run his business while she also worked at a bank.
At the age of 33, Young-Jacobs was running the business herself. Her father had died, and she was responsible for bidding out multi-million-dollar projects across several states.
Young-Jacobs soon dissolved the company because of the toll it was taking on her family.
During the years she worked at the company, however, Young-Jacobs, now 54, learned how to make a business work. She understood how to apply for loans and grants. She knew how to balance a budget. She learned how to juggle running a company and taking care of a family.
Despite no longer being a business owner, Young-Jacobs helped others with their businesses for two decades. She took phone calls from friends and served as the economic development representative for the Waccamaw Siouan, a state-recognized Native American tribe in southeastern North Carolina.
Then, in 2021, Young-Jacobs joined Southeastern Community College. “Now I get paid to do exactly what I love to do,” she said.
‘We all have a gift’
Two of her first “clients” were Jean and Anthony Jones of Welches Creek, an unincorporated community in Columbus County. Jean Jones had been dreaming of a neighborhood mart for years. The closest convenience store was about 8 miles away, and many older residents struggled to travel that far.
The Joneses approached Young-Jacobs last summer, not long after she started her job at SCC. She helped connect them to resources and showed them the right steps to move forward with their business idea.
“She is a godsend to this whole community,” Jean Jones said.
This month, the Joneses officially opened Millie Mart, a convenience store that sells everything from sandwiches, ice cream and coffee to toiletries and car care supplies.
At the ribbon cutting ceremony, Young-Jacobs cried at the sight of the coffee bar that they had discussed in her office months prior. “To see it come from an idea to fruition was just really good,” she said.
Young-Jacobs is constantly striving to help more ideas come to fruition. She’s hosted more than 50 community events in the last year, listening to the concerns of business owners, helping them apply for disaster relief grants and encouraging them to make their dreams a reality.
“I always say there’s nothing you can’t do,” Young-Jacobs said. “We all have a gift within us.”
Young-Jacobs also likes fostering young people’s entrepreneurial mindsets. Recently she went into a local high school and conducted an exercise that led one group of students to come up with what she considers a viable idea: a bookstore with an aquarium.
“If kids have more confidence in themselves, if they realize what they can do, if they know that their circumstances don’t dictate where they’re going,” she said, “we can help a kid who is struggling.”
Now Young-Jacobs likes to guide others through the path of not only establishing their own businesses but also finding themselves. She believes in making the world a better place than she found it – and running the small business center is a great way to do just that.
Follow Ivey Schofield on Twitter: @SchofieldIvey