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Melissa Gladden started her career in the staffing industry after graduating from Winthrop University in Rock Hill. She had great success working with staffing companies, but as one company cut pay and another downsized Gladden began to consider going out on her own.

“I didn’t know if I would fail or not, but I thought it better to believe in myself enough to try. I knew about the Small Business Development Centers from being a Winthrop student. I’d seen the sign. So I made an appointment,” Gladden said. “I just went by and said this is the industry I want to compete in. What does the infrastructure look like? What technology do I need to use? They helped me draw up a business plan and formalize a budget.”

Next, Gladden needed a way to fund her startup since she would require financial help before revenue would support payroll. Her business consultant at the Rock Hill SBDC helped her find a funding factoring company, which financed her payroll in the early years.

Carolina Recruitment was established in 2001. A WBE (woman business owned enterprise) minority provider and MSP (manage service provider), Carolina Recruitment offers workforce solutions such as contingent staffing, human resource duties, payroll services and permanent placements. Gladden focuses on the niche market of front office support for manufacturing and distribution logistics. A human connection and personalized customer service quickly earned Carolina Recruitment a loyal customer base and a leadership position in staff development for companies with national and international presence.

“The WBE certification is very important to my company,” Gladden said. “Many larger companies seek that in order to add diversity to their supply chain. Companies are equal opportunity employers, but when they look at their vendors, they don’t have diversity in that area. In recent years, there has been an initiative to be more inclusive in supply chain development.”

Carolina Recruitment grew steadily, but 2008-2010 were tough years.

“The nature of our business is that the need for contingent workforce rises when people are unsure what the future will hold or when they want to ramp up quickly,” Gladden said. “That meant good business for a while, but when confidence in the economy started to come back in 2010, my numbers started to drop as businesses started to hire direct or long term. Then the marketplace became more competitive and my margins were smaller.”

In 2013, Gladden again sought the services of the SBDC. There she met business consultant Forrest Norman.

“I told him that I had to keep the staff I had, but I had to figure out how to be more profitable,” Gladden said. “I needed to buy new technology that would allow me to finance my payroll so my company could become bank and self-financed.”

Norman helped her research technologies that would be a wise investment for Carolina Recruitment and help create better cash flow at lower cost. A change in infrastructure was also needed in order to free up capital for new hires and reinvest in the company.

“When you are buying technology you are not only buying tools, but also something that will touch all aspects of a business. The new technology we selected will do everything from criminal background checks to job postings on various online sites,” Gladden said.

Norman said, “The payroll funding company was no longer a viable option for Melissa. That way of doing business resulted in a significant expense to Carolina Recruitment in 2013. Melissa and I put together an RFP and interviewed four banks about a commercial line of credit.”

Gladden selected the best proposal for an $800,000 line of credit with First Citizens. This allowed her to free up money to reinvest in her company, so she purchased new software for both front and back office functions allowing her to bring the billing, AR management and payroll in house. The new technology will allow Carolina Recruitment to text and email jobs and do call blasts, as well as post to sites like Career Builder, launching all functions from the same system. The savings afforded by technology combined with the savings of being self and bank funded allowed Gladden to add five new internal employees positioning Carolina Recruitment for the most aggressive growth in 13 years. She says she expects to add another position this spring and that she is looking forward to the collaborative and creative energy that will come from having a team.

“I have been incredibly impressed with Melissa’s general business acumen and her ability to grow and manage this business from nothing.” Norman said. “I have been in the business world as a CFO/controller for more than 40 years, with companies ranging in size from Fortune 100 to those with revenues of about $50 million, but rarely have I encountered a CEO with Melissa’s talent in managing a company, its operations and employees.”

Norman is so impressed with Gladden’s abilities that he nominated her as SBA Small Business Owner of the Year. At the end of March, Gladden was selected as a runner-up for the award.

“I’m so very grateful to Forrest. He has been a blessing to me. He came in and saw our operations from a very intimate perspective. He observed our new technology tools. He got involved,” Gladden said. “For him to nominate me for this award is such an honor. When you are the business owner nobody gives you a pep talk. To have somebody from outside be impressed with you is unusual. What you usually hear are problems, or you only see how far you have to go. Sometimes you need to stop and recognize what you have accomplished.”

“It’s been a wonderful experience working with the SBDC. I always I have such a positive learning growth experience,” Gladden said. “The SC SBDC network is a great resource for small business owners. Often I’m involved in projects where I need expertise, but I don’t necessarily have the financial resources to bring in that expertise. But the SBDC provides me with a knowledgeable consultant who brings a holistic approach to my projects that I would never have had without them.”

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