Small business development centers (SBDCs) around the state are busy assisting business owners and entrepreneurs in a variety of ways that include counseling and training to meet changing needs.
Teresa Speir, director of the Gulf Coast SBDC in Biloxi, says people in the area are starting businesses in record numbers. Many are taking the classes she refers to as “Business 101” that cover the steps of starting a business, writing a business plan and financing a business. The classes, taught for three consecutive Mondays or Thursdays, are averaging more than 100 people.
“It takes them through the whole thing and helps get the process started,” she said. “Some decide they’re not ready to start a business, but those who finish are ready to start counseling.”
New construction businesses are tapering off, and Speir is seeing new businesses in food services, retail, day care, consulting and some franchise startups.
“Hurricane Katrina created some needs and opportunities for starting businesses,” she said. “Employers may be gone or out of business, or people find it’s time to explore other options and follow a dream of what they want to do. I also see a trend toward more family-involved businesses. Things are active and moving along well here.”
At the East Central Community College SBDC in Decatur, director Ronnie Westbrook continuously meets with individuals who are exploring the possibilities of starting businesses.
Going global — everywhere
“We’re looking at developing some workshops to better prepare them, and want to focus primarily on use of the Internet,” he said. “While we may think business markets are of a local geographic location, it’s more global now, and we want to help business owners at least get out there on it.”
Westbrook says the seven-county district is a rural area with no metropolitan center, although some towns, such as Philadelphia, are growing. A free workshop coming up soon will feature what small business owners need to know about web page licensing
“We’re assisting several existing businesses with research to determine the viability of expanding their businesses into related entities,” he added.
The most exciting activity going on right now at the University of Mississippi SBDC, according to director Don Fischer, is the planning for a 12-week boot camp for small businesses. The training is in partnership with several government and business groups in Union County and already has 40 people enrolled.
“The training has three main objectives,” he said. “They include: developing a one-minute elevator statement of a business; developing a workable business plan; and, developing a mentoring relationship with one of our counselors.”
Inquiries to duplicate the program have come from Louisiana and DeSoto County in Northwest Mississippi. “We expect it to have puppies,” Fischer said.
The system’s three centers, operating in 17 counties, will counsel approximately 400 clients this year and provide workshop training for another 600 to 700 people, he predicts. The coming of the Toyota plant will bring change in the types of business startups in the area too.
The Jones County Junior College SBDC in Ellisville is in the process of trying to put together a “Quick Books Point of Sale” training program. “It’s really good for retail to keep up with inventory,” says Greg Jones, director. “Some businesses can even attach the system to their accounting programs. We recommend it for small businesses. It can be very helpful.”
Credit: not critical, but a concern
Jim Harper, director of the SBDC at Hinds Community College in Raymond, is cautiously watching the credit crunch that he sees beginning to affect small businesses.
“It’s not critical, but it concerns me. There’s some rebound from lending institutions with the home mortgages that may cause backlash,” he said. “I can feel it in my bones — it’s coming.”
The situation means small business owners must show good profit to lenders and not ask for anything that can’t pay for itself quickly, he feels. “We have to sharpen our pencils on business plans,” he said. “We have to ask if something is really needed. Our focus right now is to give the best information we’ve got.”
He observes that small businesses are being forced to cut back on gasoline costs or pay for the extra costs by sacrificing in other areas such as services.
“Small businesses must make decisions and must cut back somewhere,” Harper said. “Clients are still coming in, and they’re no different from what we’ve seen in past years. We just caution that they don’t ask for anything they don’t need.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.