Uncertainty about the future remains for many potential small-business investors, but the still-depressed economy can be a golden opportunity for someone with a good idea and a prudent business plan.
Thats the message Joe Keck, director of the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center at Fort Lewis College, delivers to scores of prospective small-business owners during his class, NxLevel For Entrepreneurs, a 12-week evening course designed to help current and aspiring entrepreneurs with startup and expansion plans.
At the end of last year, entrepreneurial activity in the nation had reached its highest rate in 14 years in spite of the recessions chokehold on the U.S. and its workers, according to the latest Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, which measures new business creation.
More than half a million new businesses were created each month in 2009, the report said, surpassing the number of startups that came with a technology boom in 1999 and 2000.
Challenging economic times can serve as a motivational boost to individuals who have been laid off to become their own employers and future job creators, Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, said in a news release.
At FLC, enrollment numbers for NxLevel for Entrepreneurs reflect the national trend.
Enrollment in the Durango-based class have consistently run 15 to 25 students strong in recent years, said Lynn Asano, office manager for the Small Business Development Center. Attendance to the class when it is offered in Cortez has been even higher, she said.
And the colleges Small Business Development Center counseled a record number of clients last year more than 350 with this years numbers already on track to surpass that, Asano said.
At a recent class, which was made up of more than 20 aspiring entrepreneurs and local business owners looking to expand, business startup dreams ran the spectrum from mushroom cultivation and research to comic book shops, social media marketing and womens services.
Some in the class, like busy chiropractor Ryan Siggins at Chiropractic Durango, said they hope to expand their businesses into new territories.
Siggins wants to add biometric bicycle fitting to the list of sports medicine services he offers. Hes taking the class to ensure the expansion process is smooth and doesnt negatively affect the chiropractic business he has spent the last several years building.
Others, such as Carolynn Pakeltis and her husband, Charles, said they hoped to one day exchange their questionable corporate existence for the more romantic concept of business ownership. Charles, who holds down multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet, said he wants the hard work he puts in each week to be to the benefit of his family and the community rather than a corporate machine focused on the bottom line. The hurdles they could face in the endeavor are formidable, Keck said.
Launching a new business typically requires capital, Keck said, something that isnt easy to come by in the Four Corners.
Lending markets locally are tight, he said, with not a lot of options for getting capital to launch a business.
People really have to have their act together to even have a chance at getting a loan, he said, adding that it seems locals almost need a surplus of capital before they begin to really make it happen.
But for those who can get past that first hurdle with low debt ratios and a solid business plan, opportunity awaits, Keck said.
Many newer small companies serving niche markets in the community are thriving, he said. And for others looking to dip their toes into the local small-business economy, now is a great time for well-run companies to gain market share, Keck said.
Thats because the harsh economic conditions are shaking out businesses in the community that werent well-run or were burdened with too much debt, he said.
Their vulnerability can be a golden opportunity for a new start-up to get in the game.
Just getting in the game isnt enough, though.
Longevity through the inevitable economic ups and downs of the future will require the realization that the good times arent always going to be there, and plans must be made accordingly, Keck said.
And for now, the smartest business owners in the Four Corners are keeping focused on tightening their business plans and being prudent with company cash flows to survive the next year or two, Keck said.
The local economy was slow to enter the recessions down slide, and it will be slow to recover, he said.
Theyre all concepts associate professor Simon Walls teaches in the entrepreneur class at the college.
Most entrepreneurs, their minds are all over the place like pingpong balls, Walls said, adding that he sees it as the nature of a creative mind.
Walls helps his students build and refine their business plans, often forces them to narrow the scope of their businesses and helps them find the fastest route to a strong cash flow.
You dont always get to do what you want to do, Walls told students last week. You do what makes the money because you have to get cash flow coming into the business.
Im here to show you how to make money, he said, adding there are bucket loads out there to be made by someone with the right idea and business plan even when the economy is sickly.