Libraries boost economic development and local workforce skills

business owners attend marketing workshop at Hall County Library
SCORE mentor Leo Cortjens shares tips with business owners attend a marketing workshop at Hall County’s Blackshear Place Library

The value of public libraries has shifted way beyond books, with libraries serving as lifelong learning centers that tangibly impact local economic and workforce development.

All public libraries provide resources to build marketable job skills through GALILEO’s Learning Express Library, and many libraries also share consumer information for startups, host small business workshops and more.

“Georgia’s public libraries offer tools for workers to gain skills and open doors to new opportunities,” said State Librarian Julie Walker. “Libraries also maintain a very personal, local connection in their communities. After helping someone gain resume skills, we have examples of librarians loaning out their tie to a patron for a job interview!”

In Macon, the Middle Georgia Regional Library has a Business and Nonprofit Center that provides training and cooperative work space, helping grant seekers research and prepare thorough proposals.

Business owner Charise Stephens visits the library’s Business and Nonprofit Center at least weekly for everything from researching grant opportunities to taking workshops on 3D printing.

Charise Stephens - libraries boost local economies
Macon business owner Charise Stephens

“When you own a small business, you have limited time and need to use it in the most strategic way possible,” said Charise. “This library has great courses on grant searches, budget proposals – I go to all of the workshops. The library saves me time and is such a great resource; it is a wealth of knowledge. “

“The library saves me time and is such a great resource; it is a wealth of knowledge.”

Charise runs the Georgia Wellness and Fitness Festival, which has expanded from local to statewide in its sixth year, as well as U Create Macon, which focuses on youth empowerment and will partner with the library this summer to encourage year-round reading.

According to Library Journal, one of the most pressing needs facing communities is upskilling their local workforce. As nontraditional employment or automation requires people to gain new skills, libraries are increasingly playing an integral role in workforce development.

Hall County Library and Piedmont Regional Library systems partner with SCORE Northeast Georgia to host free small business workshops. The workshops are presented by SCORE mentors, who are usually retired businesspeople who volunteer to share their expertise.

Blackshear Place Library, part of the Hall County Library System, held a recent training for business owners to build a marketing plan.

Instructor Leo Cortjens shared tips with attendees such as how and when to market their business and how to manage their promotional budget. For Cortjens, the library is a natural place to hold the workshops because small business owners are already coming there for research and skill-building.

Attendee Michael Paywala agrees.

Debi Yorke (left) and Michael Paywala (center) attend a SCORE workshop at Blackshear Library in Hall County.

“As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, I look for free community resources that can help me grow my business,” said Michael Paywala, owner of HKP Non-Emergency Medical Transportation, LLC. “While visiting the Goodwill Career Center, I saw an advertisement for the SCORE workshop at the Hall County Library, thought it looked interesting and useful, so I decided to come. I’m glad I did.”

Debi Yorke, co-owner of Juke N Jive Creamery in Braselton shares what she gained from the workshop:

“I’m going to make some changes to my social media presence. Specifically, I’m going to begin by incorporating calls-to-action. I learned that it’s not enough to simply advertise and put your product in front of potential customers. I need to actually ASK customers to buy my product – but not in a pushy way. This workshop has helped me understand how to do that.”

In Brooks County Public Library, a single-branch system serving the 16,000 residents of Brooks County, assistance is often more informal.

Other library systems in Georgia offer monthly resume coaching, financial literacy series, entrepreneurial workshops and career buses.

“Our librarians usually have a close relationship with patrons and are constantly looking out for them,” said Director Scott Routsong. “When we have a job fair coming up, we may call some people to give them a heads up. We often know the struggles that they are going through and when they get a job, it warms our hearts as they truly appreciate someone caring.”

Visit your local library to learn what local workshops and resources are offered near you.