SBDC director talks changes to Bellingham business since 2009

C.J. Seitz, interim director of Western Washington University’s Small Business Development Center, is a familiar face to many local businesses. Seitz worked as a business advisor at the center from 2005 until 2009. Since then, she has worked in administration in the private sector and served as a regional director of the state’s Employment Security Department. 

She returned to the Small Business Development Center(SBDC) in February to continue her love of advising business owners. She shared her thoughts on how local business has changed since she left the center in 2009. 

BBJ: What’s different about small business in Bellingham now compared to 2009?

It’s such an exciting time because business owners and entrepreneurs are gaining confidence in the economy again. At the SBDC, we’re seeing an uptick in hiring with our clients, an uptick in startup activity in Bellingham, and startup loans are becoming easier to get again. Crowd funding as an access to capital is increasing.

The biggest change for me is how the economic development community has come together with an energy that wasn’t as prevalent in 2009, and I’m very excited about that. The team is well coordinated and communicating well together and it’s just so much fun to get to be a part of that.

BBJ: Who is included in the economic development community?

There’s a myriad of different agencies that come around the table for economic development partnership, so I would hate to leave anyone out. Some agencies in the community are our funders—the Port of Bellingham, the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County—and then there are our partners like the chambers of commerce around Whatcom County, Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism, Technology Alliance Group for Northwest Washington, Sustainable Connections, Downtown Bellingham Partnership and NW Innovation Resource Center.

BBJ: Are there any challenges that weren’t present in 2009?

Things are mostly good compared to the last several years. We’re having people still trying to understand the effects of healthcare reform on their business. People are hiring who have never hired before and so they’re coming here to get coaching on how to be successful with that.

Due to the work we did during the recession to assist companies in weathering the economy, there might be a perception that we’re here for struggling businesses, but that’s not all we do. Part of what we do is help businesses manage growth successfully because it’s such a critical time. I wish more businesses knew that we could do that with them.

BBJ: Are there any trends that you think will affect business in Bellingham in the next few years? 

One fun thing is breweries. We’re actually doing a little bit of research on that right now internally. We’re comparing Bellingham to other cities and looking at market saturation. We’re interested in that because there is a lot of curiosity and a lot of pre-venture activity around breweries.

BBJ: Do you think businesses know about the Small Business Development Center?

While plenty of businesses do (there are nearly 500 businesses that we work with annually), we often hear that they wish that they had heard of us earlier.

With the wide variety of services we offer—from loan packaging to technology assessments and international trade—and the resources we’re connected to on a state level, we can help businesses connect to larger resources and opportunities.

Oliver Lazenby, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or olazenby@bbjtoday.com

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