New businesses are opening up left and right in Tri-Cities, while existing ones continue to grow and expand, with new development opportunities like the Vista Field overhaul and other, smaller scale projects on the horizon.
But there’s a lot of nuance inherent in starting a new business or expanding an existing one.
And the region’s Small Business Development Center wants to help.
After a brief hiatus, the SBDC re-opened Sept. 14 at the Tri-City Development Council at 7130 W. Grandridge Blvd. in Kennewick.
Office hours are available on Fridays until it is fully operational on Dec. 3.
“When I came here, it was very clear the community really wanted the SBDC to re-open,” said Washington State University Tri-Cities’ new Chancellor Sandra Haynes.
The SBDC never really left the building, though the program’s former certified business advisor, Bruce Davis, retired in 2016 after facilitating the center’s services for more than 10 years.
This time around, WSU Tri-Cities and Columbia Basin College have teamed up to provide the funding to support the center. Previously, CBC solely funded it.
As the state’s land grant university, WSU is responsible for administering grant money from the U.S. Small Business Administration to establish SBDCs throughout the state as a part of its national network.
Washington plays host to 21 SBDCs, with almost 1,000 nationwide, according to America’s SBDC, a nationwide network of SBDCs.
TRIDEC President Carl Adrian explained that it makes sense for Tri-Cities’ SBDC to be at the headquarters of the economic development council. “It’s certainly a part of our mission to help small businesses,” he said.
Adrian said other organizations in the community, such as loan providers and the Benton-Franklin Council of Governments, or BFCOG, often would send clients to the SBDC office to receive free, confidential consultation and advice on their business-related questions.
“We are very, very excited to have an advisor back in that role,” said Stephanie Seamans, community and economic development manager at BFCOG.
“Many of our clients are in the beginning stages of their business and need help with business plans and projections … before they can apply for financing. The Small Business Development Center has filled that need in the community, so we were strong advocates of making sure it came back,” she said.
The SBDC advisor will be able to answer client-specific questions, such as those regarding marketing, packaging and product pricing, and how to assess cash flow or sell to a broker.
“A lot of people are a little bit unsure where to start,” Seamans said. “Meeting with an advisor can give them a little bit closer a start to a business plan. The advisor can ask questions after reviewing that may give them a little more perspective on what is needed in their business.”
Adrian said the SBDC helps distribute the work involved in getting small businesses and startups off the ground.
“I think the SBDC is kind of a capstone that fills in the gaps,” he said. “It’s just a good resource in the community, and we think it’s just great that the two institutions have decided to partner in this.”
Rebekah Woods, president of CBC, agreed: “We’re just excited about the opportunity to partner together on a needed resource in the community and I would say this is the first of many other partnerships yet to come.”
Woods said it made sense for both local institutions to team up since both have a goal of supporting economic development and the greater community.
She added that both CBC and WSU Tri-Cities offer curriculum for those seeking more education in business administration and related fields.
“We’ve also talked about the possibility of having a student intern or two working (at the SBDC). There are a lot of synergies and ways that we can partner using our students and our curriculum and the SBDC to advance economic development,” Haynes said.
Now, all that’s left is to find someone to lead the program.
“About a year to 18 months ago, a number of local organizations were beginning to ask questions about what we need in an SBDC (advisor),” Adrian said.
Haynes said they are in the process of bringing the new advisor aboard. “We are waiting on paperwork to officially hire and determine (a) start date,” she said. An official announcement is forthcoming.
Haynes, Woods and Adrian also expressed interested in establishing a community advisory group for the center, which would serve to help guide it.
“We have so many successful entrepreneurs in Tri-Cities, it would be great to draw on their expertise,” Adrian said.
“I think once we get going, we’ll be able to figure out who should be on the advisory council,” Haynes said.
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