Spartanburg’s small businesses may one day have access to the same kinds of “well-being” services offered by larger corporations thanks to a new pilot program unveiled this week by the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

Dubbed the Wellville Exchange, the idea is a partnership between the chamber, Mary Black Foundation and the Georgia Health Policy Center. The result of some two years of brainstorming and research, the program is targeted at helping local businesses with 50 or fewer employees.

If it works, Hub City’s small business workers could gain access to new programs and services that could keep them happier and healthier, which in turn should help employers recruit and retain the talent they need to compete.

Betsy Neely Sikma, Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce vice president of talent and inclusion, said the new concept incorporates lessons born from Spartanburg’s Way to Wellville initiative.

Those initial conversations morphed into a small business collaborative, according to Molly Talbot-Metz, incoming CEO of the Mary Black Foundation, which hammered home the idea that a program that could offer small businesses shared resources and services — things like preventive programs, health screenings and immunizations — was something everyone could benefit from.

“It was from that concept that we started to flesh things out and ask, 'OK, what would that look like?'” Talbot-Metz said. “What struck me was how clearly employers see the relationship between well-being and the success of their business. They expressed again and again how much they care about their employees, and it was wonderful that they understood that a strong, healthy workforce is the basis for a strong business.”

Sikma said the chamber joined the effort as a way to better understand and serve Spartanburg’s small businesses. She said 92 percent of Spartanburg County’s employers fall into the small business category, with 50 employees or fewer.

That means they can often offer employees perks, like flexible schedules, that larger companies sometimes can’t. The flip side is that large corporations can often offer employees wellness services that are too expensive for small businesses to provide.

“Essentially, what we’re trying to do is simultaneously handle those talent attraction needs by helping small businesses act like big businesses,” Sikma said. “By helping them find ways to reverse negative health trends and keep their employees in better health.”

Skima and Talbot-Metz stressed that the program remains in the developmental stage, but they said it was time to unveil the idea to the public as a way to gather more data and refine the concept.

So what does the Wellness Exchange concept look like right now? Sikma said it incorporates multiple concepts including a “well-being academy,” shared access to services, virtual services and an emphasis on narrow networks.

Sikma said the well-being academy would be a kind of clearinghouse of best practices designed to improve health and wellness. Virtual health options might take the form of online checkups to reduce offsite travel that could free up more time for both bosses and workers, Sikma said. "Narrow networks" is an idea that simply means a program would attempt to use local options whenever possible to provide services or care.

“And 'shared services' goes back to the coop-like nature of the exchange," Sikma said. "We hope to have to a base of small employers that can share the things they offer with one another at affordable rates. There are any number of chiropractors that are a part of the community, along with mental health providers or restaurants that emphasize healthier options. The idea would be to build something that could actually help share those services.”

The program has recently finished its first phase of trials. Think of that as the development of a basic financial model and stress testing the idea, Sikma said. The plan is to further refine the concept and decide if it will launch by Dec. 21, 2018.

Sikma said the input of any small business owner is valuable. She can be reached at bsikma@spartanburgchamber.com.