Report touts small business center

Local agency says partners across region help spur economic growth

Southwest Colorado’s Small Business Development Center continues to lead the way in creating economic growth, according to an annual report from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

“We are typically right at the top of the Colorado SBDC network, which includes 15 centers from across the state,” said Joe Keck, director of the SBDC of Southwest Colorado at Fort Lewis College.

The Colorado SBDC annual report for 2011 indicates the district that’s home to Keck’s local arm of the statewide organization helped foster more than $46 million in capital for business creation last year. That’s compared to about $34 million in combined capital creation among the three Denver-area districts. And the branch run by Keck at Fort Lewis College generated almost half of the capital creation in the southwestern district.

One reason for the success: “We are about the most partnered organization you will ever come across,” Keck said.

The local SBDC covers five Southwest Colorado counties and partners with the Fort Lewis College, Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, the Alliance, several area businesses and more than 35 local business advisers. The organization is part of a SBDC district that covers most of Southwest Colorado, from Grand Junction to the New Mexico line.

The center strives to connect businesses and with critical training, lending and programs to ensure success and job creation, Keck said.

It offers services that would otherwise be hard to provide, and the duties keep two local SBDC full-time employees busy.

In addition to the partnering agencies, Keck applauded the work of the 35 local business advisers who give generously of their time. He noted the vast variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise among the business advisers is helpful.

The local SBDC counseled more than 400 clients last year and donated more than 450 hours, he said. If paid for the work it did, Keck said the advisers’ donations would have had a value of nearly $50,0000.

“(They all) work pretty diligently to make a difference to small businesses in the region,” he said.

Local business owners acknowledge the value of what they have received at the center. The low-cost training programs, professional advice and business-plan advice helped make a difference for numerous start-ups and existing businesses over the past few years.

“It’s amazing. I just cannot say enough good things about those guys,” said Sandy Kobrock, co-owner of Pass Creek Yurt and Wolf Creek Avalanche School, said last year. “If it wasn’t for them, I probably would have given up. They’ve been great in guiding me and helping me grow my business.”

Her business tripled when she started working with the SBDC, Kobrock said.

Others, including Heather Hinsley, owner of Cake Cafe, have offered similar accolades.

The center’s successes, Keck said, don’t mean the local small-business center is done striving for more and refining its existing efforts.

Keck said this year the organization is focused on growing its business-adviser network still more. The center wants to ensure there’s an adviser available to businesses in each of the counties they cover, saving their clients gas and time that could be focused on growing their companies and creating jobs.

Advisers are in especially short supply in the Dolores and San Juan County areas, Keck said.

The center also is planning an educational series on how to fund new and existing businesses and how to find and access resources through regional banks, government agencies and equity investors.

The educational series will add to the approximately 90 workshops the center offers in the five-county area annually.

hscofield@durangoherald.com