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Workshops to Help People Start 'Growing' Businesses

It seems perfect.

* In south Georgia, many farmers look for a new moneymaking crop.

* Around Atlanta, other workers look for career changes. (Often, layoffs force the issue.)

* Meanwhile, greenhouse, nursery and landscape markets blossom.

Thriving markets look made-to-order for people seeking promising business ventures. Between the people and the prospects, though, stands a stark reality: 85 percent of all new businesses fail within the first five years.

"That's where we're trying to help," said Paul Thomas, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

Extension specialists will lead a workshop March 20-22 in Athens. Along with the UGA Business Outreach Services, Georgia Commercial Flower Growers Association and Georgia Green Industry Association, they hope to help new ventures start out right.

An early, hands-on workshop March 19 will teach how to grow plants from seeds or cuttings.

The workshops will offer 43 sessions. Over four days, greenhouse and nursery owners, landscape pros and UGA experts will tell just about everything anybody needs to know about starting these businesses.

"Through our county Extension offices, hundreds of people have shown an interest in starting businesses like this," Thomas said. "And there's plenty of room for new people in this market.

"The market in the Southeast is the strongest we've ever seen," Thomas said. "Sales have gone up 13 percent per year over the past three years. Growers are making money. And production is nowhere near the market capacity.

"It's not just a few niches, either," Thomas said. "It's herbs, ground covers, shrubs, vines, trees, cuttings, bedding plants, perennials -- there are thousands of niches."

Taken together, "green industry" firms sell Georgia's seventh-largest farm product, with more than $200 million in yearly sales.

"It's the fastest-growing commodity in Georgia, running neck-and-neck with cotton," Thomas said. "And it doesn't take but an acre of ground to get into this business."

The workshops March 19 and March 20-22 are designed to show people how to grow plants, how the industry works, what sells, how it sells and where it sells.

The March 19 workshop requires pre-registration by March 15. A $150 fee covers equipment, supplies, books and plants. The first 40 to register may attend.

The fee for the March 20-22 workshop is $125 before March 15. It's $145 after that. The fee covers refreshment breaks, two lunches and materials.

To learn more about the workshops or get a registration form, contact the county Extension office. Or call 1-800-884-1419 or (706) 542-2134.

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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