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SBDCs reaching out to entrepreneurs from around the state

Across the state, the Mississippi Small Business Development Centers are serving clients in a variety of ways.

Robert Forster, the SBDC’s associate state director, says there are changes coming with the push the federal government is putting on exports and the training required for small businesses to compete globally.

“It’s very important in trying to balance trade so the exportation of goods and services can continue,” he said. “Training will be offered throughout the state with the center at Hinds Community College responsible for supporting our counselors with questions about exporting to help our clients.”

Another new thing coming is software that will allow the staff to make more sophisticated financial projections for clients. “With what’s going on financially across the nation, it’s become more important to have numbers that are true and make sense,” Forster said. “With this software, we’ll be able to help clients be better prepared to go to financial institutions for loans.”

There are a number of workshops offered at all the centers, including First Steps, Tips on Writing a Winning Business Plan, Financing your Startup Business, Accounting by the Numbers and Understanding Business Financials.

“These are put on by all centers and they also do some circuit riding,” Forster said. “The counselors will go anywhere they’re asked to conduct a session, and they will do them after hours and on weekends to accommodate the most people.”

The center at Jackson State University held a series of events last week to celebrate Minority Enterprise Development Week as part of a national observance. Center director Henry Thomas says there was good participation in the events that included a golf tournament, networking and seminars.

Thomas says there are always inquiries about contracting opportunities with the city and the university.

“With all the building that’s going on, people want to know about the bid process,” he said. “We also find that people are very much concerned with the economy and that banks are pulling back on loans. We’re also seeing clients who are trying to find ways to show customers they are responding to rising gas prices.”

He observes that business owners are trying to modify to survive these tough times. To help, the center can provide a DVD on the subject, one-on-one counseling and assistance revising business plans.

Sonny Fisher has been director of the center at Mississippi State University for 15 years and observes that traffic count is a little off this year.

“Of those coming in, 80% need to borrow some money. Banks are taking a real hard look at everything, but we can help clients get prepared to go to the bank,” he says. “We help with business plans. That’s the number one thing banks want to see.”

Fisher notes that many clients have good ideas and skills with experience in a field they’re interested in for their business. Sometimes he and other counselors are asked for an opinion of what kind of business to start.

“We tell them what’s over crowded because we can stand back and look at it without emotion,” he says. “The client needs to have more pluses than minuses. A lot of times we think it’s a great decision to decide not to go into business.”

The MSU Center often gets asked about grant money. “There are no grants,” Fisher says. “Any grants are usually specific and are not for retail-type businesses.”

The MSU Center conducts a continuing group of workshops with emphasis on retail for the area’s leading retail centers of Meridian, Columbus and Starkville.

Because the center located at Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s Natchez campus covers such a broad rural area in southwestern Mississippi, director Jeff Waller spends a lot of time on the road.

“I’m a one-counselor center and cover 12 counties. I get around to all of them,” he said. “I’m hearing some mixed reaction to the economy, but there are positive people who still want to start businesses.”

He doesn’t see a particular trend for type of businesses but has counseled several artists who want to turn their woodworking, pottery or painting into formal businesses.

Jim Harper, director of the center at Hinds Community College, says the numbers there look pretty successful as it finishes its fiscal year. “With the financial markets like they are, we still have a good flow of people coming in,” he said. “Loans are hard to get so we tell them up front if they can’t collaterize, they may just have to sit back.”

The Hinds Center can help clients through the application process, making sure all I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed; then many want to know what to do next. Among the heavy client load are young people and some home-based endeavors such as graphic designers and deer processors.

“Where do I spend my little bit of marketing money is a question we often get,” Harper said. “We were seeing problems with gas prices. Now, it’s credit problems.”

He will spend the month of October visiting all the chambers of commerce in the four-county district, asking what their client base would like for workshop subject matter.

“If we offer the same thing over and over, it gets stale,” Harper said. “The visits have helped us be successful. After we get all the data back, we’ll put out the schedule of workshops in November.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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