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Business boot camp boosts economy in Marion

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MARION, Va. - A business boot camp program in one southwest Virginia town is turning out to be a big boom for its economy. It is called Pop-up Marion. With grant money available, it has laid the foundation for more than two dozen new stores downtown and created scores of new jobs. Tosha Thompson finally achieved her dream of opening her own business in December 2012. It is an idea she had been researching for around 10 years. Her hard work now happening at Rufflections Pet Grooming. Before she even opened the door, she participated in Marion's first Pop-Up Business Boot Camp. "I learned a lot through that that I'm still using to this day," Thompson said. The five-week course offers potential entrepreneurs an in-depth experience at running a business. Marion Downtown Executive Director Olivia McDonald said, "We go through everything from the executive summary to the marketing, etc." Economic and Community Development Director Ken Heath told us the idea behind the program started when the recession hit in 2008. "Just about all the folks who have opened up businesses have come from Marion and Smyth County. That's what we wanted to accomplish: to put our people back to work first. We believe when we're successful, they hire people who are locally here," Heath said. Marion town officials told us since the initiative began, 27 businesses have opened up creating more than 100 jobs. "The thing we didn't count on was the spirit that it brought back to this community. When people realized it can be done, that it doesn't have to be someone else doing it for you," Heath said. Most storefronts are now filled downtown largely because of pop up marion and the drive of energy it has created. "The drive-in that they have, the cruise in, those have been amazing for us," Thompson said. The estimated economic boost is nearly $2 million in private reinvestment since the program began, and it has officials looking forward to what is still to come. "We're still looking for a full-time bakery, coffee shop," McDonald said. The next boot camp starts on March 7 and runs each Tuesday night for five weeks. It starts at 6 p.m. and runs about two hours. Anyone interested in starting a business, even outside of town, is invited to participate. The classes are free. The competition awards a $5,000 grant to the winner of the boot camp. Marion officials told us there are also other loans available for business looking to locate in downtown. They offer up to $15,000 for a two percent interest loan for businesses, as well building improvement loans as well. We pulled the numbers and found out 237 people have participated in the program, and it has 103 graduates.

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