From Inside Business By Sandra J. Pennecke

Debra Hamilton Farley


The impact that Debra Hamilton Farley’s 33-year career with the Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center has had on the region can best be conveyed through numbers.

Over the course of more than three decades, Farley advised 8,779 small businesses and helped 252 new businesses open. Her assistance helped create more than 9,000 jobs and $175 million in capital formation.

“I just loved what I did and working with the community,” she said. “I had a passion for assisting those who wanted to start a business and especially the small, disadvantaged business owners.”

Farley retired from her dual roles as associate executive director and certified business analyst with the Small Business Development Center and Hampton Roads Chamber on April 30.

Bryan Stephens, president and CEO, Hampton Roads Chamber, said in a news release that Farley leaves a tremendous legacy through the invaluable contributions she made to the small business community.

“Her expertise and servant leadership has resulted in incalculable economic development, but most importantly, it has resulted in enhanced quality of life for countless individuals in the small business community,” he said.

A retirement send-off on April 28, held at the Peninsula Workforce Development Center, left Farley in awe of those who came to share their stories of success that centered around the relationships she built.

“It was special to learn that I had touched that many lives,” Farley said.

Her journey with the Small Business Development Center began in 1990 as a client services administrator, and she worked her way up the ladder. Hardworking and determined, Farley worked full-time and raised three daughters while pursuing multiple college degrees.

She earned her associate degree in business administration from what’s now called Virginia Peninsula Community College, a bachelor’s in business management from Hampton University and a master’s in global management from Cambridge College. Farley was also awarded an honorary doctorate degree in entrepreneurship and business administration from the TIUA’s School of Business in Duluth, Georgia.

As she worked to help struggling business owners connect with resources, her passion for her work grew. She made sure to offer personalized service and remained dedicated to help her clients succeed.

Throughout the years, she offered Next Level, a 12-week class for entrepreneurs focused on starting a business; the small and minority business series, a four-week training program often heralded as a “mini-MBA”; and countless business workshops with industry experts.

“I think I was kind of that hub for the average business owner,” she said. “Because if you don’t know what you don’t know, then you have no outlet.”

Jolie Spiers, SBDC executive director and vice president of small business for the Hampton Roads Chamber said Farley’s commitment to her clients was unparalleled.

“She gave each of the businesses she worked her full attention and every available resource to help them launch, grow and thrive,” Spiers said. “Her mission was to help people’s dreams come true; her experience and leadership will be missed.”

Farley wants to encourage her successor to build the same kind of relationships she’s built with local accountants, lawyers, bankers and other industry experts in order to do the best job possible.

Originally from Macon, Georgia, Farley and her husband of 41 years, Tommie Farley Jr. reside in Hampton. A grandmother of two, Farley is heavily involved in her church, Saint Paul AME in Newport News.

She said after a few months of downtime, she will be ready to reenter the working world part-time, perhaps as a consultant.

Sandra J. Pennecke, 757-652-5836,