5 Steps to Getting What you Want in Business

This week, the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center hosted its fourth speaker series event. This event invites a successful veteran in business to share his or her experiences in business and tips on success after the military. This month’s event featured Laura Law-Millet, co-founder of the GI Film Festival. After a 14-year career as an… Read more »

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Laura Law Millet - 5 Steps for Getting What you Want in BusinessThis week, the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center hosted its fourth speaker series event. This event invites a successful veteran in business to share his or her experiences in business and tips on success after the military.

This month’s event featured Laura Law-Millet, co-founder of the GI Film Festival. After a 14-year career as an Army intelligence officer, Law-Millet went to work in the corporate world, but she felt that something was missing in her life. After a discussion with her husband on the way that military personnel are portrayed in the entertainment industry, the couple decided to start the GI Film Festival, which is dedicated to sharing the military experience in and out of the arena of war.

Since its inaugural year, the festival has grown from a three-day event to a week-long festival that includes events on the west coast and a show on the Pentagon Channel. They focus on films that are entertaining, engaging and present films “from new and established international and domestic filmmakers that honor the heroic stories of the American Armed Forces and the worldwide struggle for freedom and liberty.”

In her time as an entrepreneur, Law-Millet says she has learned many lessons, but her advice focused on the five lessons she believes are most important for a successful business and for a happy business owner. She says that she learned these lessons while observing her daughter and believes that entrepreneurs can learn a lot by looking through the lens of a child.

1. Ask for what you want

Children are not afraid to ask for things, and many times, they will not take “no” for an answer. Often, business owners are afraid to ask for things, either because they don’t think they can get them or because they are afraid they will be told “no.” Law-Millet recommends that business owners act as if they don’t realize that “no” is even a possible answer. When the GI Film Festival was first starting, they asked several celebrities if they would attend the event. It never dawned on Law-Millet that they would refuse, so she kept asking. Many celebrities came to the event, and they never would have attended if Law-Millet had not asked for what she wanted.

2. Expect success, but don’t be afraid to fail

Oftentimes, kids get excited about everyday things and anticipate that everything will go well. Entrepreneurs can embrace this lesson by keeping an optimistic attitude about their potential for success. Everyone has failed at one point or another, but it’s what you learn from that failure that determines if you will succeed. Law-Millet explains that WestPoint sets up its freshmen to fail by giving them an impossible workload so that students experience failure and learn to prioritize.  Law-Millet suggests that business owners find a mentor or other people in their industry to guide them along the way. The knowledge gained from these relationships will help entrepreneurs mitigate the failures that they have along the way and allow them to bounce back more quickly.

3. Network with everyone

We’ve all seen kids that make friends immediately with everyone playing on the playground or that are always willing to share that special treat in their lunch with a friend. Similarly, entrepreneurs never know who might be able to help them. A seemingly insignificant meeting could help you get that new client or that key investor that enables your business to grow. Similarly, entrepreneurs never know when helping someone else might come back to reap rewards. This is especially true when you are part of a smaller business network, like the veteran business community. Law-Millet jokes that we have all heard of the “six degrees from Kevin Bacon” game, but in reality, businesses are often six degrees from success. Networking can make all the difference.

4. Enjoy the moment

If you have ever taken a walk with a child, you know how frustrating it can be when he or she wants to stop to look at every rock, stick, or flower. However, business owners are often so concerned with looking at the long term that they forget to enjoy the journey and take time to be grateful for their success to date. In business, the journey is often as important as the destination, because the decisions you make along the way help to shape the future of your company. Law-Millet emphasizes that it is important to mark and celebrate the milestones along the way, because these little victories add up and, before you know it, your company has taken flight. This attitude of gratitude will help you achieve happiness along with success.

5. Dream big

How many of us, when we were young, wanted to astronauts or singers or president? Kids know how to dream big, and it’s not until adults limit their perception of what is possible that they begin to question what they are capable of achieving. Your business’ future is what you make of it, and anything is possible. When entrepreneurs think of ideas as impossible, they are closing themselves off to potential avenues for success. Law-Millet says that she is so grateful that the GI Film Festival was never told that their idea was not realistic, because they may have listened and not achieved the success that they have today.

To learn more about the GI Film Festival, please visit http://gifilmfestival.com.

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Holiday Print Gift Ideas

Portrait, Photographer, Northern Virginia, Del RayI am a photographer so of course I have a LOT of photos of my family. That is not to say I have a lot of photos of my family hanging in my home for all to see. So I was thinking I would remedy this with a few holiday gifts this season. Take a look at the gifts below that you could give to your loved ones this year.Family Photography Montgomery_005 Quirk-Hofman_060_e Wed_265

Prints. Prints. Prints. I am a huge fan of Pinterest and love photo collages! Maybe take photos from this past years family photo session and cluster them in your living room. You can create one large canvas,  two to three prints framed together or even cluster a bunch of smaller frames. Have a commonality like “all black and white images” or “all red frames.” This will not only draw attention to the photos but create some beautiful wall art in the process.

Personalize It Go to a craft stores to get some ideas. I like to take photos of my friends kids throughout the year and give them ornaments with photos of their own kids or for my parents, photos of their grandchild. You can also make mouse pads, mugs and calendars at most online printers. My girlfriend made me a photo mug a few years back of my now husband and me and I was so touched by her thoughtfulness. It is now a mug I cherish.

Create a Photo Book Did you travel to Italy on your honeymoon a few years back and still have no photos to show for it? Take some time to assemble a book online and personalize it to your partner. I am a huge fan of photo books, because otherwise your photos are just A.) Sitting on an SD card. B.) Floating around on social media or C.) Taking up space on your external hard drive. Show them off in a beautiful album.

Where to Print There are so many printers out there so really you will have to find one that works for you. In the past I have had really great luck with Costco but I also had my monitor calibrated to their printer. I also started getting photo books through My Publisher and although their quality was better than my experiences with Snapfish or Shutterfly I was overall unimpressed by their lack of customer service. If you want superior quality with archival inks and materials I highly recommend MPix Pro. If you are not a professional you could try MPix, as it is the Old Navy to the Banana Republic.

Holiday Deadline Try to get your online print orders in during the first two weeks of December or better yet before that. Every company has a different cut off date for their products and often albums, prints and canvases will all have different cut off dates. So if you need something in time for the holiday, try to plan ahead as much as possible.

You can reach me at:

 

(202) 681-9848

[email protected]

http://www.shotinthedarkphoto.com/

 

Follow me on Facebook

Follow me on Twitter

Follow me on Google+

Shot In The Dark’s owner and principal photographer is Meghan Stewart. Her photos have been published in Food and Wine, Northern Virginia Magazine, and Travel + Leisure.

Meghan’s love for photography developed from shooting in the metro Detroit area where she grew up, and through documenting her travels, including a year she spent living in a Ghanaian village.

A mother and former cheesemonger, Meghan founded Shot In The Dark in 2012.

Meghan says:

“My love for photography comes from meeting people where they are. Not just physical location, but using photos to capture people in their element, as naturally as possible. For me, taking photos is about that connection. I love seeing their joy when they see their photos for the first time.”

We love to travel so if you’re not in DC, VA or MD just ask and we would love to meet you wherever you are.

Owning It

Owning a small business is like starting a family but often I feel like a single parent with quintuplets.

When I first began my business in 2012 I filed out all of the correct paperwork. As it would seem, I did so in the most backwards order I could imagine. This was not by my poor planning as much as it was my overall lack of knowledge about the entire process, which between you and I is not incredibly obvious even after having gone through it. I do have to give credit where it is due and I owe a lot to the Small Business Development Center as I may not be where I am today without their guidance.

As a small business owner I have had to wear many hats and to keep my costs low I have had to wear all of those hats on my own.Meghan

The Photographer As a lead photographer I have enjoyed the ability to be as structured or organic as I like and have been able to be creative with on the spot changes due to weather, venue and wardrobe mishaps. I feel that this is my strongest role and one that I am constantly improving and honing. A big thanks to friend and fellow photographer Sam Dingley for my stunning headshots. That comes off like I am bragging about me, but I promise I am bragging about his photography skills.

The Website Designer In all fairness the bare bones of my website was originally created by a friend Kendall Totten Design who is an incredible developer but is now ran almost entirely by me. I try to check in with her once or twice a year to do an overall update to my site when I need assistance with code or say, I accidently delete a section of content. Oops. But other then that, all content, now comes from me in all of my glorious grammatical errors.

The Ad Executive I do my best to funnel all social media traffic back to my website but at this time do not use any paid advertisements to gain clients. My social media presence is crucial to my image so I do my best to keep my brand consistent. My logo was again created by a dear friend Mindy McPeak Illustration and my business cards and header by another Graphic Designer friend Danielle Webb who I think I traded the designs of for wine and cheese. Overall my business is driven by word of mouth. My clients return year after year and tell their friends about their experience with me and in turn become new clients.

The Attorney I cannot afford one at this time and so I am my own legal counsel. I have done my best to be upstanding and have tried to protect myself by using contracts and holding a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). I even keep my business bank account separate from my personal account. I figure there is no excuse for being careless so I might as well be prepared.

The Salesman I like to pride myself on my ability to sell. I used to sell for J.Crew and could sell corduroys and chino’s like it was my job. And at Cheesetique I used to sell cheese and wine like it was my job, because at one time it was my job. But now, I am in the business of selling myself. Gasp. And this is not easy for me. I believe I am an incredible artist and yet it takes everything in me, to sell me. It is not like I bathe in confidence but I do have to overcome myself sometimes and sell my experience, skill and artistry.

The Accountant I file my own taxes. I create my own budget. I try to keep my advertising costs and business expenses low. I pay sales tax in three states and currently for an LLC in one. I file everything on my own that I need to keep my business running and upstanding with the law.

The Balance I am a full time wife and mother and so it is essential that I maintain a balance with my work. I tend to work nights (editing) and weekends (photographing) when my partner can be with our little one. The lifestyle of a Wedding and Portrait Photographer lends itself well to my available schedule.

Starting Your Own Business? Ask for Help The Small Business Development Center of Alexandria was an excellent resource for me when I began my business and they helped to point me in the right direction and showed me where to file my LLC, Business License, Trade Name and Sales Tax. I also had to set up an Employer Identification Number (EIN) with the IRS and I would not have known this had it not been for their assistance. I also took advantage of their social media counseling which has proven to be priceless.

You can reach me at:

 

(202) 681-9848

[email protected]

http://www.shotinthedarkphoto.com/

 

Follow me on Facebook

Follow me on Twitter

Follow me on Google+

Shot In The Dark’s owner and principal photographer is Meghan Stewart. Her photos have been published in Food and Wine, Northern Virginia Magazine, and Travel + Leisure.

Meghan’s love for photography developed from shooting in the metro Detroit area where she grew up, and through documenting her travels, including a year she spent living in a Ghanaian village.

A mother and former cheesemonger, Meghan founded Shot In The Dark in 2012.

Meghan says:

“My love for photography comes from meeting people where they are. Not just physical location, but using photos to capture people in their element, as naturally as possible. For me, taking photos is about that connection. I love seeing their joy when they see their photos for the first time.”

We love to travel so if you’re not in DC, VA or MD just ask and we would love to meet you wherever you are.

Productivity Tools for Time and Email Management

This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC. If you had all the time in the world, would you ever get much done? The British naval historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson would say unequivocally that you would not. After all, you… Read more »

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Productivity Tech Tools November 2014This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC.

If you had all the time in the world, would you ever get much done? The British naval historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson would say unequivocally that you would not. After all, you had as much time to complete things as you wanted, so what’s the rush? Parkinson’s Law, named after Mr. Parkinson for his extensive observations of working at the British Civil Service, states that work expands to fill the time allotted to complete it. As Small Business owners we all need to recognize the value of our time, and more importantly the effectiveness of the skills, strategies, people, and tools that influence our outcomes. In doing so, we harness the power of not just our personal productivity but also that of the success of our businesses. Every month, Alexandria Small Business Development Center hosts the Business Development Roundtable, where Small Business owners and their representatives come to talk about topics that make a difference in our business and professional lives. November’s Roundtable was all about using productivity tools (that you already have) to use our time and energy better. We had a great turnout and the group started with a discussion of the virtues of their own personal productivity. Where do you struggle with personal productivity? Where do you excel with your time, team, task and project management skills? People had a wide range of struggles and areas of prowess in their own work worlds; we honed in on time and email management in this Roundtable.

Time Management

The Roundtable participants shared their calendar and time planning tools. Several attendees keep digital and analog calendars. Some keep a calendar planner that they carry with them or have at their office desk, so that they can quickly and easily capture events and appointments in their planners without additional technology. Others need the connectivity to share their calendars with others, and like that they can carry their calendars in their smartphones, so they choose to use software-based calendars. And yet others keep a dry erase board-style calendar that helps them map out their weeks, months and more, to get a higher perspective on their time planning.

The question was asked about how to invite people to events (such as a sales meeting, or to lunch), and whether text (SMS) messaging was appropriate. I took the question, since I actually have a strong opinion on the subject. While I regularly communicate via SMS with my family, friends and staff, I connect infrequently with clients, colleagues, vendors and other work-related contacts via text messaging. It is still primarily via phone and email. And, I need to really look at my calendar and look at other planning documents to usually decide on when something might be a good time to meet with a prospective vendor, partner or other business contact. That said, I would very much rather a phone call followed up by an email, or just an email, explaining why one wants to meet with me. That’s just me. And, that’s my point. I believe that you must ask people how they best like to be communicated with in order to be most effective in getting in someone’s calendar. Sometimes you don’t need to ask directly, as you can find out from others, but you need to find out how a person best plans and communicates. This puts them in the right mindset to make the best, most favorable decision to meet with you.

Also, I mentioned during the discussion section about calendars a really awesome Kickstarter project called the Pivot Calendar. Pivot Calendar is an adhesive, repositionable project management tool for your Small Business. You plan by the quarter, so you can have one, two, three, or four quarters up on the wall in your business. What makes it really unique (as you can see in the video above) is the ability to create a horizontal timeline as well as plan within the weeks vertically. It’s a very flexible planning tool for any business or organization.

Email Management

When it comes to the number one productivity drain people in American corporate and small business talk of, it’s email. Email is a double-edged sword because it’s also an amazing technology that has revolutionized the way businesses and consumers alike communicate. It can be the most productive tool in your business arsenal, or the bane of your professional existence. Thankfully, most of that is up to you! At the Roundtable, several people asked and answered questions about the specifics of their email tool.

Sanebox Email Management Tool

One cool tool that was discussed was Sanebox, an email management tool that works with any email system. The way it works is that it connects to your email service (such as Gmail, Microsoft Exchange, Yahoo, AOL, Outlook/Live) and on mobile devices (i.e., iOS and Android) so you can manage through Sanebox. It creates “smart filters” that separate unimportant email messages from the important ones for you. As well, it categorizes, spam proofs your email, unsubscribes email newsletters with one click, defers email you want to read or respond to later, and can even save email attachments to your Dropbox file storage account for you. It’s a pretty powerful tool for the Small Business owner looking to maximize their time spent on email.

Because of the success of our discussion this month, we resume the Roundtable program in January (as we don’t meet in December) with a follow-up to this month’s topic. We will cover the areas we didn’t get to discuss at this session: task, project, and team management productivity tools. As a productivity enthusiast, these topics speak particularly to me personally, professionally and intellectually. More importantly for you, these productivity tools help you make more money, have more time for your family and friends, increase your quality of work and life, and decrease distress (the negative kind of stress) overall in your daily life. There are countless other granular benefits, but I’m sure you can think of those yourself. In the next month, I offer you this wisdom from the group—make time to take time to consider the productivity tools you use already and how well you use them. You don’t need more tools to become more productive most often. It is usually a matter of making better use of the tools you already possess, digitally and physically.

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Celebrating Veteran Entrepreneurs

This week, as we celebrate Alexandria Honors Veterans Week, the City publicly recognizes the value that veterans bring to our community at large. Here at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, we recognize that veteran entrepreneurs enhance our business community as well. This recognition is part of what led to the formation of the Alexandria Veterans… Read more »

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Veterans for Economic DevelopmentThis week, as we celebrate Alexandria Honors Veterans Week, the City publicly recognizes the value that veterans bring to our community at large. Here at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, we recognize that veteran entrepreneurs enhance our business community as well. This recognition is part of what led to the formation of the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC), which has co-hosted several events for veterans in business this week. Whether you are looking to start a business, grow your business, network with other veterans in business, or explore career opportunities, AVBEC is available to support and guide veterans at any stage in the process.

In addition to the activities this week, last week was National Veterans Small Business Week. In support of this, several articles and blog posts were published to highlight why veterans excel as entrepreneurs. Additionally, there were several articles written on the current trends in the veteran business world. We’ve rounded up a few of these articles to share with you below:

Emily McMahan, the director of the AVBEC, was also featured in an article this week. This article, which appeared in technical.ly DC, explains an exciting new addition to the AVBEC program. The Bunker, a Chicago-based incubator for veterans, has chosen the AVBEC as its expansion location in Washington, D.C. The Bunker also announced that it will be expanding to six other cities, including Philadelphia, Tacoma, Los Angeles, and Austin. AVBEC is anticipating welcoming its first class of veteran entrepreneurs in early 2015.

We would like to thank all of our veteran clients for their service and for the contributions they have made to our Alexandria business community. We are also thankful for the veterans who lead our economic development organizations. Many people my be surprised to know that Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the Alexandria SBDC, and Val Hawkins, President and CEO of AEDP, are both veterans. They, along with Emily McMahan, are pictured in the image that accompanies this post, and we are grateful for their leadership and the skills they bring from their time in the military.

As we wrap up the events of Alexandria Honors Veterans week, we look forward to continuing to work with our veteran business owners and to supporting the first class of veteran entrepreneurs at The Bunker.

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Leveraging Innovative Community Resources

In an ideal world — one where small businesses have unlimited time and money — entrepreneurs would employ a bevy of experts to advise them in a variety of areas. In reality, most small businesses make do with limited resources and usually lack the capacity to engage consultants. There are, however, opportunities for business owners… Read more »

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Business_School_studentsIn an ideal world — one where small businesses have unlimited time and money — entrepreneurs would employ a bevy of experts to advise them in a variety of areas.

In reality, most small businesses make do with limited resources and usually lack the capacity to engage consultants. There are, however, opportunities for business owners to leverage community assets to access otherwise unaffordable assets. For example, we often overlook our local universities, which are an amazing resource for the small business community.

Through a partnership with the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, local business owners enjoy the opportunity to spend a semester working with teams of students from Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business MBA program. This 15-year-old partnership has saved entrepreneurs time and money.

More than 50 Alexandria-based businesses have taken advantage of the MBA program since its inception, usually between three and four each semester. Past participants include retailers, professional service firms, graphic designers, art galleries, daycare centers, food service businesses and pet services. To participate, business owners submit simple applications — and project proposals — that describe their needs, which can be anything from operational issues to new ideas that the entrepreneur may not have the time or expertise to implement.

Student teams select the projects that appeal to them and begin functioning as consultants, meeting a few times with the owner, conducting research and finally delivering an in-depth report complete with recommendations. Project topics include general operations strategy and competitiveness; quality concepts; product and service design; process planning and technology decisions; facility location and layout; forecasting; capacity planning; distribution; and inventory management.

These projects are not abstract academic musings. They have very tangible payoffs for the small businesses involved. Here are a few examples of businesses that have benefitted from previous student projects:

  • Students working with the Christmas Attic conducted in-store customer surveys and proposed that the owners consider a store for all seasons. That recommendation played into the development of the store’s Urban Attic.
  • When Mom Made Foods was planning for national expansion of their healthy organic frozen foods in 2008, an MBA team researched storage and distribution options. That help facilitated their coast-to-coast expansion very soon thereafter.
  • A graduate student team’s analysis of the cost components of each of Popped! Republics’ popcorn products led to improved pricing calculations for each of the products distributed via their food truck, retail and online storefronts.

Planning is in progress for future projects with Virginia Tech, and we encourage business owners to contact the center for more information on how to get involved. Resources for small businesses can be found across our community when we work together and are willing to think outside the box.

This blog first appeared in the Alexandria Times on October 31, 2014.

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Celebrating Alexandria’s Little-Known Manufacturing Sector

Manufacturing Day (using the hashtag #mfgday on Twitter) will be celebrated across the country next week. October 3 is a day for highlighting the importance of manufacturing to the economy, showcasing the diversity of modern manufacturing technology and promoting the rewarding and skilled jobs in the field. Manufacturing includes much more than the heavy industry… Read more »

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ME Swings

Coffee roasting equipment at M.E. Swings. Photo credit: Swings Coffee

Manufacturing Day (using the hashtag #mfgday on Twitter) will be celebrated across the country next week. October 3 is a day for highlighting the importance of manufacturing to the economy, showcasing the diversity of modern manufacturing technology and promoting the rewarding and skilled jobs in the field.

Manufacturing includes much more than the heavy industry that immediately might come to mind when you hear the word. It includes all types of fabricators who create new products, industries like woodworking, doll making, soap and cosmetic manufacturing, as well as jewelry design and production. We don’t often think of Alexandria as a hub for that kind of industry. However, the city has a rich manufacturing history, from unglamorous pork rendering along the waterfront to spark plug production along Washington Street.

Today, manufacturing in Alexandria encompasses a broad range of services, including commercial printers, bakers, chocolatiers and sign makers. Are you curious about modern day manufacturing in Alexandria? Here are a few success stories that illustrate Alexandria’s industrial diversity:

  • The Port City Brewing Co. is an award-winning craft brewery that celebrates Alexandria’s tradition of brewing beer for the region. Established in 2011, the company distributes its products to Virginia, D.C., Maryland, New York and North Carolina.
  • House of Doors was founded in the early 1970s and now is led by a second-generation owner. Within their 10,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Alexandria, the company has built customized doors for the U.S. Capitol, legislative office buildings and the White House.
  • The M.E. Swing Co. was located in the District for almost 100 years and, in 2013, moved its roasting operation to Del Ray. The company focuses on providing high-quality and ethically sourced coffee with a commitment to customer satisfaction.
  • Vie de France, an internationally known bakery and supplier of French and European pastries, employs 150 people in Alexandria and works around the clock baking and assembling croissants. The facility provides all of the croissants sold by the company from Denver to the East Coast.
  • The National Capital Flag Co., founded in Alexandria in 1962, is one of the largest flag manufacturers in the country. Customers include U.S. government agencies, all branches of the U.S. military and other commercial entities. The flags are made, embroidered and appliqued on site.
  • Mom Made Foods is headquartered in Alexandria and makes low-sodium, preservative-free frozen foods, prepared meals and handheld snacks for children and families. Mom Made Foods products are carried in the freezer aisles of more than 3,000 stores, including Giant, Target and Whole Foods.

With such a diverse and significant manufacturing presence in Alexandria, it is clear that this industry is a vital piece of our city’s economic fabric. Join us as we celebrate both Alexandria’s manufacturers and other manufacturers across the country on October 3.

This article first appeared in the Alexandria Times on September 25, 2014.

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Local Market Updates for Alexandria Small Businesses

As a small business, it can be difficult to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the regional or national economy. Many business owners know that these issues are important to their businesses, but it can be time consuming to sift through all of the information and news to distill the important… Read more »

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AEDP_StateoftheMarketReport_MidYear2014_9 22 14As a small business, it can be difficult to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the regional or national economy. Many business owners know that these issues are important to their businesses, but it can be time consuming to sift through all of the information and news to distill the important facts.

The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership has recent released a State of the Market report for Mid-Year 2014. This publication is part of their research and data series on the City of Alexandria. This report is released twice a year and provides the latest updates on the City’s economy, the status of different development projects, insights into the office and retail markets, and residential sales patterns.

Each report features a spotlight section that goes into more depth on a particular topic. For this report, the focus is on development activity in Old Town North. With this information, AEDP hopes to provide a comprehensive snapshot of the City of Alexandria for real estate professionals, business owners, and the general public.

We believe that this report will be a helpful tool for all small businesses in the City and encourage everyone to take the time to read it. To access the report, please visit the Market Reports page on AEDP’s website.

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