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Veteran owned small businesses seek greater help navigating bureaucracy

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

It’s Veterans Small Business Week, and Gov. John Carney visited some veteran owned businesses to highlight their contributions to the state.

More than 5,800 businesses in the First State are run by veterans, and Gov. Carney visited a few in Milford Tuesday to celebrate their success and the value they bring to the area.

Carney and other state officials visited a construction site of a custom home built by James Burgess, owner of Elite Homes.

Burgess served in the United States Navy and founded his company back in 2000. He says being a veteran influences the way he runs his business.

“As silly as it sounds it kinda rolls over into your life, you know what I mean? The discipline and everything,” Burgess says. “Building homes, my discipline is that home has to be as close to perfect as possible when it’s done because people are gonna notice if it’s not. And being a small business I can’t really absorb a lot of people who aren’t happy with their product.”

While many small businesses struggled during the pandemic, Burgess says he’s seen a surge in new clients.

He notes many people are moving away from cities, and the option to work remotely means many don’t need to be near their office anymore.

Some small business owners say the state needs to do more to help owners navigate the maze of bureaucracy it takes to run a company.

One was Euphoric Herbal Apothecary, founded by Cindy Collins over ten years ago as a small, online Etsy store providing natural alternatives to typical childcare essentials.

Collins now runs a brick and mortar store in Milford providing even more herbal remedies and products. The store is now in its third year of operations, expanding to include a smoothie bar.

Her company was one that saw hard times amidst the worst of the pandemic, forced to shutter the storefront.

But in some ways, Collins says the pandemic forced her to continue to innovate, and while the store remained closed, she was able to put her entire store inventory online, expanding from just around 30 products to over 800.

She says starting this business after her time serving in the Air Force, she wanted to embody the leadership skills she saw lacking in many of her own commanding officers in the Military.

Being a good role model and also giving her employees the freedom and independence to be creative is what she wants to prioritize at her store.

But Collins says it can be difficult for small business owners to navigate the bureaucracy in state government.

“One challenge that we did experience in opening our smoothing and tea bar was working with the Health Department,” says Collins. “That was a bit challenging to navigate. So that could be made easier for people who are starting new food establishments or adding on like we did.”

Collins says providing more education around how to apply for something like a food license — and creating more access to state employees who can help with that process are things she’d like to see improved.

Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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