Small-business developers can help locate useful tools, resources | Guest column

By Jennifer Shelton
Director, WWU Small Business Development Center
Courtesy to the Bellingham Business Journal 

It has been a year of positive changes for Whatcom County’s small businesses and positive transition for WWU’s Small Business Development Center.

The SBDC is part of the most comprehensive small-business assistance network in the United States and provides business owners and managers with free, confidential business advising, research and access to resources and training.

Local businesses also have the opportunity to involve WWU students in company projects, which provides a real-world learning experience.

Since 1984, the SBDC has been an outreach arm of the College of Business and Economics at WWU. The program receives additional support by Whatcom County, the Port of Bellingham and the city of Bellingham.

Business looks up  

Washington’s SBDC clients experienced a 27 percent increase in sales between 2009-2011, compared to the state average of 3 percent. SBDC clients also saw a 9.4 percent increase in the number of employees, distinguishing themselves from the state average that decreased by 1.6 percent.

To date, SBDC clients in Whatcom County have reported an average sales increase of 42 percent—of those, 41 percent are focused on expansion, 38 percent are working on stabilizing their business operations and 21 percent are actively engaged in starting a business.

According to a needs assessment coordinated by the Washington SBDC network, some top challenges mentioned by small businesses are making technology upgrades, the cost of advertising and the recruitment and retention of employees.

Of those that obtained financing, 61 percent received funding through a commercial bank.

The majority of respondents said they planned to grow this year. The lending climate has improved overall.

The U.S. Small Business Administration reports about 67 SBA loans totaling $38 million have been provided through local banks in Whatcom County this year.

Our new additions 

The SBDC increased its capacity to serve Whatcom County in 2012.

Eric Grimstead and Wade Stringfield joined the SBDC as certified business advisers.

Nichole Neumann joined as our program specialist, and WWU MBA candidate Thomas Shaw was chosen as our graduate assistant to support businesses with research and financial analysis.

In 2012, 769 businesses contacted the SBDC for business advising, research, resources or training. Some top areas of interest were marketing and sales, starting or acquiring a business, and sources of capital. Top industries that worked with our business advisers included manufacturing, retail and professional/ technical services.

The SBDC also offered a variety of training sessions for local businesses last year, including the Hot100Biz Book Club, a Whatcom County Finance Forum and Jumpstart Your Exports.

Connecting expert resources 

In partnership with Whatcom Community College and the Northwest Innovation Resource Center, the SBDC started the class “Launch and Build Your Business,” which is the first program in Whatcom County to be approved for the Self Employment Assistance Program, or SEAP.

As part of state Employment Security Department initiative for job creation, SEAP provides options for people receiving unemployment benefits to focus on entrepreneurship as a career choice.

Businesses working with WWU’s Center for Economic Vitality on export planning have the option to continue export planning services with the university. Any business working with the SBDC can also access the resources and expertise of the entire Washington SBDC Network, including international trade specialists and certified global business professionals that are dedicated to Whatcom County.

The SBDC continues to offer its services at 115 Unity St., Suite 101 in Bellingham.

Our staff can be reached at 360-778-1762, by email at sbdc@wwu.edu or online at www.cbe.wwu.edu/SBDC. You can also find us on Facebook.

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