Small business is big business for WSU center

9:00:35 AM CDT - Thursday, September 09, 2004

By Melissa Lacey

The figures are in, and the numbers show that the Kansas Small Business Development Center at Wichita State University is helping the state's economy grow.

In 2003, clients of WSU's Kansas Small Business Development Center, or KSBDC, created 310 full- and part-time jobs, started 66 new businesses and generated $14.6 million in new sales.

The KSBDC state office in Topeka recently released a comparison of 2003 and 2002 statistics, revealing a 40.1 percent increase in jobs created, a 17.9 percent increase in new businesses, and a 48 percent increase in new sales for the WSU region. Last year the KSBDC at WSU counseled 920 clients, up 233 clients from 2002.

According to current data, 2004 service figures are on target to surpass those from 2003. In the first half of 2004, the center already provided assistance to 616 clients. Forty-six workshops were conducted in 2003; this year already 43 workshops have been offered.

Marcia Stevens, regional director of the WSU KSBDC, attributes the annual increases to satisfied clients and word-of-mouth referrals. Direct referrals by partners such as chambers of commerce and city and county economic development offices also have increased client counts.

"Clients have benefited from our services and they are telling others about it," said Stevens.

"Our experience was tremendous," said Dean Bunting, co-owner of Bunting Innovations Group, a Wichita television production company. "Having the support and savvy of the SBDC on your side can help increase your chances of making a go of your own business. They helped us work smarter toward our goals."

The KSBDC is part of a national program that works with start-up and existing small businesses to help them compete and grow through business management consultation and educational programs, said Stevens. Services are open to anyone and many are free. Each regional center is staffed by seasoned business professionals who provide free, expert counseling and affordable training, she said.

At the WSU KSBDC, clients find help with marketing, financial projections, management issues and other subjects. A start-up business may need guidance in developing a sound business plan, while existing businesses can use help with strategic planning. Workshop topics include taxes, market research and financial management.

"It's helpful to get a fresh perspective from an expert," said Stevens. The KSBDC offers creative ideas and valuable tools to help a business move forward and grow, she said.

"We needed a more structured purchasing plan to help us with the economic fluctuations since 9/11," said Judy Schimmels, co-owner of Kracker Jax retail clothing and gift shop in Wichita. "They helped us realize who our customers are and what we can do with that information."

A 2003 report by the U.S. Small Business Administration demonstrates the need for services like those provided by the KSBDC. In 2002, 96.9 percent of Kansas businesses were small, with fewer than 500 employees. Between 2001 and 2002, new businesses decreased by 4.6 percent, while bankruptcies increased 8.2 percent.

Counseling business owners on employee retention versus cutbacks or layoffs, for example, becomes important in a weaker economy as a means of saving jobs, said Stevens.

The KSBDC statewide network comprises eight regional centers and two outreach centers. The WSU regional center is at the Hughes Metropolitan Complex, 5015 E. 29th St. N. Its four-person staff serves a strip of 24 counties in central Kansas from the Oklahoma to Nebraska borders.

"We have more demand for services now than we can meet," said Stevens. "But we have excellent staff that work hard to handle client needs."

The WSU KSBDC staff shows no signs of slowing down or reducing its services.

"We will continue to serve the Wichita area effectively, continue outreach efforts in our region, and continue partnerships that benefit the interests of small businesses and entrepreneurs," said Stevens.

The KSBDC network is funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Kansas Department of Commerce, host institutions like WSU, and is administered by Fort Hays State University.

For more information about the KSBDC at Wichita State go to www.webs.wichita.edu/ksbdc.

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