published Thursday, April 1st, 2010

More seek advice

Incubators hunker down for recession's long haul


by Tamara Best
Audio clip

Kevin Maxfield

For aspiring entrepreneurs, help from experts can point the way to assist a new business to thrive.

An add-on in encouraging small businesses also comes through incubators that serve as nourishing homes for small companies in their early years. For example, Cleveland State also houses the Cleveland/Bradley Business Incubator, a separate entity that offers tenant space and expanded in 2007 to accommodate more businesses.

Chattanooga, too, has an incubator, known as the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Business Development Center, on Cherokee Boulevard.

"We've been really happy here at the business development center," said Laura Jones, a co-owner of McGowan and McClain LLC, a jewelry business. "There are all kinds of people who have helped us. Everything we need to promote our business, we can find right here."

help long after launch

With the recession and the tightening of credit, the centers that offer counseling have seen another trend.

"I think in the last year and a half we have seen an increase in the amount of people who have had existing businesses that are now having difficulty and are looking for ideas and options about how they can keep their doors open," Mr. Platz said.

Area companies say the centers are a resource in tough times.

"They continue to be a huge help to me," Denise Reed, president of the Concierge Office Suites, said. "I know I can pick up the phone and ask them a question and get a response usually within the same day.

"It's great to know that someone has your back, especially in small business," she said.

Kevin Maxfield, director of the Chattanooga State Community College site at the Business Development Center on Cherokee Boulevard, said aspiring entrepreneurs should bring their business ideas, credit scores and amount of funding needed when visiting the centers so that counselors can better help them.

"It's a great way for someone to ask questions that are important from a banker's or landlord's perspective" said John Sweet of Niedlov's Breadworks. He had sought help from the center seven years ago.

Development centers seek to serve that role for new and existing small business by offering consultation, education, referral and support services, officials said.

"Our mission is to give that new business owner as much information and as much counseling and advice as we can," said Rick Platz, director of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center at Cleveland State Community College. "What we attempt to do is fill in the gaps and give them the information and advice they need that will increase the likelihood of their success."

Counselors all have degrees, a minimum of five years business ownership and accounting backgrounds, Mr. Maxfield added.

"Their service is free and you can't beat free if you have someone who knows what they are talking about," Mrs. Reed said.

But the economic downturn has had effects other than leading more potential entrepreneurs to seek advice.

vitality of small business

Hurley Buff, facility manager of the Cleveland/Bradley Business Incubator that celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, said the downturn has caused fewer people to come in and seek space for a business.

"Up until now, we've had a tremendous response from the community," he said. "The downturn is usually good for us but this one seems to have dampened the entreprenurial spirit."

But lately there seems to have been a renewal in interest, he said. "Fortunately it's started coming back," he said, noting that what his incubator offers has been a big plus in the past. Its graduates over the last 10 years have brought 400 jobs to the Cleveland area, he said.

For Mr. Buff, that reflects his belief that the success of small businesses is vital to America.

"As long as small business is thriving, the country will be fine," he said.

TENNESSEE SMALL BUSINESS CENTERS OVERVIEW

* $27.6 million -- Amount obtained by personnel and clients and financing

* $7.5 million -- Generated in tax revenues

* 1,055 -- New jobs created

* 10,921 -- People trained in small business related subjects.

Source: Tennessee Small Business Development Centers, 2008 figures

CLEVELAND INCUBATOR

* Opened: July 2000

* Size: 33,000 square feet

* Number of businesses helped: 106

* Success rate: 84 percent

Source: Incubator officials

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