Jim Carroll will retire from his positions as executive director of the Small Business Development Center and vice president for small business for the Hampton Roads Chamber on June 1. (Courtesy / HANDOUT)

NORFOLK — A 25-year champion for small business success in Hampton Roads is retiring later this year.

Jim Carroll plans to retire from his dual role as the executive director of the region’s Small Business Development Center and vice president for small business at the Hampton Roads Chamber on June 1, a day after he marks his 70th birthday.

“It’s time,” Carroll said. “And it’s time for my wife to have some fun.”

In Hampton Roads, Carroll’s name became synonymous with the Small Business Development Center. He was the recipient of numerous awards, writer of countless articles and a presenter at the local, state and national level.

He helped found the CrimDell Small Business Network, which coordinates William & Mary business students to help with local business counseling. He’s worked with regional entrepreneur connector StartWheel and has served on various boards and committees, including for the business schools at Old Dominion and Christopher Newport universities, Norfolk Convention and Visitors Bureau and nonprofit lender 504 Capital Corp. in Chesapeake.

Throughout the pandemic, Carroll worked 10- to 12-hour days seven days a week to make sure small businesses understood the rules and requirements for various loan and grant programs. He said more than 63,000 loan applications were processed with the region bringing in $3.5 billion in federal disaster relief to help businesses.

The chamber is conducting a statewide job search to replace Carroll. Hampton Roads Chamber President and CEO Bryan Stephens called Carroll the quintessential professional dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.

“His work ethic is unparalleled and his 25 years of contributions to the small business community and this chamber are unequaled,” Stephens said. “We cannot thank him enough and wish him well in his retirement.”

Navy provides a foundation

This is not the first retirement for Carroll, who served 21 years in the Navy and retired at the rank of commander in 1995.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Carroll earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Villanova University in 1974 and received his commission. He earned three graduate degrees including international relations from Salve Regina University, national security affairs and strategic studies from the U.S. Naval War College and a Master of Business Administration in international business from City, University of London’s business school.

“I knew I was getting out — retiring, if you will — and I decided that I needed to speak business as well as military,” Carroll said.

His naval career took him around the world, including duty stations at the West Coast, Bahrain, Japan, and England, but it was Hampton Roads that ultimately won his heart and became home. When it came time to settle down, Carroll declined a position in his home state to be back in Norfolk. His two kids loved the region.

The same year he left the Navy, he started his own business, Carroll’s Consulting, and landed a few contracts including one with the Small Business Development Center.

In 1996, he was hired as an adjunct professor to teach a postgraduate course at the U.S. Naval War College in Norfolk. Carroll maintained that role one night a week for 24 years.

In 1997, he added his “day job” at the Small Business Development Center and chamber.

Adapting and advocating

Over the years, Carroll said he has witnessed many changes in the business world.

“Obviously when I started, nobody knew about this thing called the internet,” he said. “And now you see how computers have basically come into our lives and taken over our lives — especially for small business owners; it was a brave new world for them.”

One thing Carroll said he noticed in the late 1990s was how people derisively looked at small businesses as mom and pops.

“I felt like I was Saul preaching to the Philistines trying to convince them that small businesses are really important,” he said. “That message has taken ahold across the country, thank heavens, and they now see the value of small businesses not only as an economic driver, but also as a quality-of-life driver.”

Carroll said he’s happy that small-business owners now get the recognition they deserve. With four congressional districts represented within Hampton Roads, Carroll said 93% of the employers are small businesses that employ more than 516,000 people.

“That equates to about $20 billion in payroll,” he said. “Now tell me again that that’s a mom and pop.”

His favorite aspect of the job was meeting and talking with small-business owners and learning about their ventures.

Carroll also noted that the past two years amplified 30 years of technological progress with a modified lexicon including BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store) and BOPAC (buy online, pickup at curbside), hybrid offices and remote work.

As he gears up for retirement, Carroll said he will miss his colleagues both in Hampton Roads and throughout the Virginia Small Business Development Center network.

“Every one of them had an impact on my life,” he said.

Fellow SBDC colleagues Bill Holloran, business adviser, and Debra Hamilton Farley, associate executive director, echoed equal sentiments about Carroll.

“Jim is a very dedicated hard worker and extremely dedicated to the SBDC,” Farley said. “The void will be felt by many.”

Holloran said Carroll leaves the Small Business Development Center in good standing as it moves forward.

“I don’t think there’s anybody that doesn’t know or has not had businesses that have benefited from the SBDC,” Holloran said.

Carroll and his wife, Barbara, will celebrate 45 years of marriage this May. She retired five years ago from her position as the administrative director at the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics at Old Dominion University. The grandparents of four had downsized from their house in Virginia Beach to a condo in downtown Norfolk 14 years ago.

As Carroll prepares to pass the torch to his successor, he said he looks forward to days spent reading, cooking, and delving into the region’s history.

“It’s been a heck of a ride and I’m glad that I was the guy who got to take that ride,” he said.

Sandra J. Pennecke, 757-652-5836,