Area Small Business Industry Has “A Lot Of Momentum”

By Jena Sauber St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Rebecca Lobina, director of the Small Business and Technology Development Center in St. Joseph Missouri says there is "a lot of momentum" for business development in St. Joseph. Lobina describes how a smaller community is doing its part to foster entrepreneurship.

St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.

Korey Massey, owner and manager of The Mark-It, gets to see her fair share of small business start-ups.

"We have a lot of people who are just starting out their businesses and come in here for shirts or something like that," Massey said, "and they ask us a lot of questions like 'What do you suggest we get involved in?'"

The Mark-It is one of a growing number of local businesses in St. Joseph, creating what Rebecca Lobina, director of the Small Business and Technology Development Center, calls "a lot of momentum."

Multiple St. Joseph agencies, including the SBTDC and the Heartland Foundation, are working toward supporting and developing the growth of small businesses in community and surrounding areas.

"Instead of people leaving to start their business or going to work for somebody else, they've decided to stay here and start their own businesses here," Lobina said. "We have an environment here that has a lot right here in somebody's backyard that does help make us more successful."

In fall 2016, a FiveThirtyEight report ranked St. Joseph fifth in the nation for the number of start-up businesses launched since 2014, with 171. The U.S. Business Administration estimates that there were approximately 23 million small businesses across the country as of 2015, an increase of 49 percent since 1982.

"Small businesses are the ones that are here to stay," Lobina said. "They are the ones that their corporate decisions are made right here in St. Joseph. Those businesses that only have five, 10, 20 employees, they are more likely to stay local and continue to grow and support other local companies."

In the last three years, the St. Joseph Small Business and Technology Development Center, a partnership program between Northwest Missouri State University, the Small Business Association and the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce, has helped secure almost $17 million dollars in small business funding for local ventures, Lobina said.

"You need to be aware of finances," Massey said. "I think that's a big thing people struggle with. Have someone who can mentor you and set you in your ways. I would get a mentor, someone who can help you out if you ever have any questions on anything. It's always helpful."

The Small Business and Technology Development Center assists with the start up to the maintenance of a business, including market research, financing, tax planning, strategic planning and other needs. Being able to provide education and resources is key, Lobina said.

"We've had a 76 percent success rate of our businesses," she said. "When you look at the national standards, one in 10 make it. If we are working with these people, more than seven out of 10 make it. That's a big difference."

Supporting local businesses is vital to a community's survival, said Judith Sabbert, president of the Heartland Foundation.

The nonprofit's pilot program, Think Ahead Works, is scheduled to open in King City, Missouri, in May.

The community space will occupy two existing, remodeled storefronts and serve entrepreneurs and small business owners. One side will include space for "office hoteling" for area business owners.

"That's kind of a new concept that you see growing all across the county. Typically, it happens in larger communities," Sabbert said. "It's shared space for 'co-working.' It could be for remote workers. It could be for people with home-based businesses or a one-man shop that needs a place to do their work."

The ultimate goal is to turn the other half of the space into a satellite location of the emPowerU program based in St. Joseph, Sabbert said. They also will operate a social enterprise that will offer internship and externship opportunities as well as products and services for sale.

"We hope that we'll be able to demonstrate that creative spaces like that can work, and hopefully we can be an inspiration to other smaller communities to take a look at their empty storefront to create something similar in terms of hoteling space or other kinds of ventures and enterprises that might be possible," Sabbert said.

Since its launch just over two years ago, the Center for Entrepreneurship, a division of the Missouri Western State University Steven L. Craig School of Business, has helped more than 300 interested entrepreneurs with business basics, said Annette Weeks, director of the program. More than 80 percent of the efforts are based in St. Joseph and the surrounding communities.

"We want to assist them to show them how important they are to the community and to the university, so that is where we saw a need and are focusing our efforts," Weeks said.

The Center for Entrepreneurship will host the "Road to Success" Entrepreneurship Week March 27 through 31. The Small Business and Technology Development Center will hold a "Meet the Lenders" event from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday, April 6, at the Green Acres Building with bank representatives and information on loans. All events are free and open to the public.

"I would really like to see the momentum continue in St. Joseph with even more support for existing businesses and entrepreneurs getting started," Lobina said. "I would really like to see people continue to support local and put their dollars there. I would really like to see more of a community awareness of how important it is to support locally."

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