A tightly woven mesh of networking proves an excellent resource for peninsula small businesses.
The Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District refers people to the Small Business Development Center. The SBDC uses data provided by the Kenai Peninsula Borough's economic development district. Kenai Peninsula College matches students with the SBDC. The Entrepreneur's Corner pools experts to help new businesses get started. And business owners offer expertise to help, rather than compete with one another.
The Economic Development District provides office, conference, warehouse and construction space, a resource library and even a heliport. It also offers technical assistance in the form of a professional bookkeeper and a commercial loan officer.
Growing up in a family-owned business environment gave EDD's Executive Director Betsy Arbelovsky the idea for the new mini-incubator program.
"We only got to eat in the dining room on holidays or when company was coming over," Arbelovsky said.
Remembering the piles of invoices, timecards, balance sheets and bank statements that covered the family's dining table, Arbelovsky said she knows exactly where the phrase "don't cry over spilled milk" originated.
As a result, EDD has outfitted an office with a computer, fax machine, copy machine, Internet connection, phone, paper clips and pencils. The office will also help a business owner organize records and develop a Web page. The cost is $40 a month for four hours a week.
Small Business Development Center Director Mark Gregory reported that the SBDC is spreading from the K-Beach location to offices in the Homer and Seward chambers of commerce. From those three locations, peninsula entrepreneurs can access one-on-one counseling and business-development materials, including software programs on start-up costs, business plans, management issues, training programs, personnel matters and much, much more.
Counseling is the center's strong suit.
"One-on-one counseling is our first and foremost service," Gregory said of the free and confidential service. "Our secondary service is training seminars, which average 12 per quarter. And we (use) lots of volunteers and are always looking for volunteers that have an interest and wisdom they want to share."
Wanetta Ayers, business development manager for the Kenai Peninsula Borough's new Community and Economic Development Division, said the SBDC is one of her division's primary clients.
"They use our data to help develop business plans and get small businesses off on a solid foundation," Ayers said.
Four business-related degrees are offered through the University of Alaska Anchorage and Kenai Peninsula College:
n Small business management certificate;
n Associate of applied science in business administration;
n Associate of applied science in computer electronics; and
n Associate of applied science in office management and technology.
"We also offer a four-year bachelor of business administration through the University of Alaska Southeast," said Scott Kraxberger, chair of KPC's business and industry division. The program allows peninsula students to complete the first two years studying with KPC instructors, with third and fourth years offered via satellite.
"We're going to have some of our first students graduate with that degree in 2001," Kraxberger said.
Ray Zagorski, a KPC business professor, said the majority of business students are either "part-time students who are working, involved in business or industry, looking toward a degree, or upgrading their knowledge for a promotion."
Lou Collier, SBDC program assistant, coordinates the Women's Roundtable, which meets monthly.
"We thought it would be a wonderful program to get women interested in mentoring other women," Collier said. The group's cross-section of expertise draws from the professional backgrounds of approximately 60 women. Collier said they are exploring Internet networking and establishing a hot line to answer business-related questions.
"I would like to be able to share some of my experiences and, hopefully, the expertise I've acquired in my business career," said Elisabeth Hallford, who was involved in a similar roundtable in Colorado. "I think that for women who are starting or considering new businesses, it's beneficial (for them) to know they're not alone. And that doesn't apply strictly to women."
Gary Engler, owner of Wonde-rland Wood Products, agreed. Engler is a graduate of a 10-week training program offered by Stan Steadman of Entrepreneur's Corner.
"He got me going on the right foot," Engler said. "He pretty much showed me everything I had to do. I could talk to marketing specialists, accountants, lawyers, whoever I wanted to talk to. It's a good program and it's free. I figured I had nothing to lose and everything to gain."
Entrepreneur's Corner "targets folks that are trying to discover an idea for self-employment or have an idea but haven't developed it," Steadman said. "We say, 'If you think you have the inclination for self-employment, come in and see us.'"
Cary Mabe, a hairdresser with 11 years of experience on the peninsula, followed her inclination for self-employment.
"I just like being in charge of myself," Mabe said.
After developing a business plan and a loyal client base, Mabe opened Blue Moon Salon a year and a half ago. Helping make it a positive experience is the support of others in her field.
"It used to be more competitive, but I feel like the hairdressers have come together quite a bit," she said. "Everybody needs a haircut. There's lots of business out here."
What advice does she offer those considering self-employment?
"Do your homework," Mabe said. "Do your paper work and have all your ducks in a row. Make sure you've got it all figured out."
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