Feb. 3, 2006--As part of an effort to spur local development, Georgia's communities are working hard to earn the distinction of an "Entrepreneur Friendly Community" from the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

The goal of the "Entrepreneur Friendly" initiative is to help communities in the Peach State establish an entrepreneur support program, enhance relationships with state and federal resource providers, and educate the community about the benefits of supporting local businesses.

The Entrepreneur & Small Business Office (ESB) of the GDEcD has been providing community-based programming since 2004 when Governor Sonny Perdue made entrepreneurship and small business development a priority for the state.

To date, 13 communities -- roughly 10 percent -- have been awarded this distinction.

It takes a community about a year to meet all of the GDEcD's criteria of an "Entrepreneur Friendly" community. Key components of the application process include having a leadership group who will build entrepreneur and small-business strategies, educating the community about the benefits of small businesses, and interviewing local entrepreneurs about the tools they need to grow, among others.

The ESB works closely with the Georgia Small Business Development Center as well as other economic development partners, like Georgia Tech, to review communities wishing to be instituted as "Entrepreneur Friendly."

"This is a way to publicly recognize how important we consider our small-business sector to be," said Lidell Greenway, director of the small business and entrepreneurship programs at the Douglas-Coffee Chamber of Commerce. Coffee County, located in southern Georgia, was the first rural community to be named "Entrepreneur Friendly" in August 2004.

"Most of our businesses are mom-and-pop shops," said Greenway, adding that many local business owners are less likely to pick up and relocate to urban areas because of family ties. In just one year, Greenway said she has seen increasing support for local businesses.

Gwinnett County, a suburb of Atlanta, is the newest "Entrepreneur Friendly" community.

"The majority -- more than 95 percent -- of our companies and employers are what we consider small businesses," said Stephanie Hopkins, manager of economic development resources for the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce. The designation as an "Entrepreneur Friendly" community came in December.

"In 2006 we look forward to networking with other "Entrepreneur Friendly" communities," Hopkins said of the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce.