Lots of tools available for entrepreneurs

Low interest rates, helpful banks and a variety of tools for entrepreneurs are helping foster new business on the Kenai Peninsula.

The success of small businesses is tied to the local economy, said Bryan Zak, South West Region Director for the Alaska Small Business Development Center.

Agrium re-starting in Nikiski, and the potential for an in-state gasline with a Peninsula outlet, could foster more oil industry related businesses, too, he said.

The incubator operated through the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District has also helped new businesses in that area, Zak said, and been full to capacity lately.

Elsewhere on the Peninsula, local resources also play a strong role in the businesses that thrive.

In Seward, the marine service industry is booming, with a boatyard expanding and the marine industrial center ready to come online. There’s a new salmon smoker there, too. Down in Homer, Ohlson Mountain Mineral Springs H2O is successfully bottling water.

Existing businesses are also expanding, Zak said.

On the central Peninsula, he noted local businesses like High Mark Distillery and Jumpin’ Junction have developed and expanded in recent years, finding untapped markets in the community.

In addition to resources and market opportunities, Zak said current low interest rates create a “super opportunity” that can help propel new businesses.

Previously, when interest rates were higher, there was much more risk, he said.

Now, the amount needed to make a mortage payment leaves money left for operating costs, he said.

Banks are also playing a role in the new businesses opening, he said.

Some of the new Kenai Peninsula businesses got loans through the State of Alaska Division of Economic Development, and others used Small Business Administration loans.

“We’re finding that the banks are much more friendly to small businesses,” Zak said.

Banks have identified some of the particular needs small business owners have such as employee payroll and transitioning from launch to growth, and provided more assistance than just funding, he said.

Aside from banks, Zak said that the small business development center and the KPEDD offer help to those looking to start a business.

Everything from technology to training helps, he said.

A starting point is the center’s financial projections spreadsheet, available on its website. It can look at financial plans, and determine what might be viable or not incorporating cash flow and expenses.

“That’s a pretty useful tool,” he said.

Another tool looks at profit and how to maximize it, he said.

KPEDD also offers Quickbooks training, Zak said.

Other technology that helps make starting a business easier include new scanners that quickly process documents and receipts, and a Google program that provides businesses with a free domain name and website.

The availability of the Google services landed Homer the designation of Alaska’s eCity for 2013. That was based on based on national research analyzing the strength of local small businesses, including the likelihood that they had a website, used a blog, promoted on social media, sold goods online and had a mobile friendly site.

“Homer’s growth and innovation in e-commerce is an example that other cities across the state can strive to replicate,” said Scott Levitan, director of small business engagement at Google, in a statement last year.

Social media can also be both a challenge and a potential boost, with services available to help business owners navigate that realm, including web applications, to manage social media, such as one called Buffer, Zak said.

The Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council also offers various advertising services at a cost, including social media help.

All those factors also help those trying to purchase a business that already exists, Zak said.

“I think the opportunity is excellent right now for purchasing an existing business,” he said.

Buying a business can give a would-be business owner a sense of how they can expect it to perform, Zak said, and much of the preliminary But it can also come with challenges: ensuring you know how to operate it, and not being overly confident that it will perform the same way it has previously.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

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