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PROGRESS 2019: Starting (and staying) up

Community resources available to budding entrepreneurs

News Photo by Julie Riddle New business owner Todd Chase poses in the retail shop of his recently-opened enterprise on Grand Lake. Assistance from the Alpena Small Business Development Center helped him turn an idea into reality.

ALPENA — Starting a new business is no piece of cake.

“It probably would have been easier to give up,” said Todd Chase, owner of the Sand Bay Trading Co. and Woody’s Restaurant on Grand Lake.

Aided by free, knowledgeable assistance, however, the first-time restaurateur has made a go of his new enterprise, finding and filling a need in the community and opening his doors to many eager customers.

“Carl helped us put the pieces of the puzzle together,” Chase said.

That’s Carl Bourdelais, the senior business consultant at Alpena’s Small Business Development Center, who connected Chase with lenders and helped him navigate unfamiliar territory, helping an idea become reality. That’s the kind of work he’s done for many other startups in the area.

“Starting a business is extraordinarily difficult,” Bordelais said.

Acknowledging that difficulty, the Small Business Development Center offers free, confidential business consulting to anyone contemplating starting a small business. Its goal is helping new starts to prosper long-term, ultimately benefiting not only the business owner, but the community as well.

This has been an extraordinary year, new-business-wise, Bourelais said.

“The number of businesses I’ve helped start, the number of clients I’ve worked with, and the capital investment that’s been made in the community has been far above average,” Bordelais said. “Things are looking very good going forward.”

Months after his business opened successfully, Chase still receives how’re-you-doing emails from Bourdelais, whom Chase likens to a silent partner in his company. Bourdelais is there when needed with suggestions, guidance, and a deep knowledge of the community and its resources.

CONNECTING THE DOTS

Developing a plan that will work is crucial to the start of a new business, Bourdelais said.

The two primary reasons businesses fail are lack of capital, which can pose a particular problem for younger people, and poor planning, Bourdelais said. He steers them past both obstacles, pointing out weaknesses in the game plan for a new enterprise and connecting them to sources of financial resources.

“Whatever my client needs is what I provide for them,” Bourdelais said.

In his role, he edits prospective owners’ business plans, provides them with templates, and links them with resources and other people who may be a good complement to what they want to accomplish.

The bulk of the businesses for which he provides consulting are in service or retail.

Retail store startups are getting more specialized, he said, pointing to the multiple non-traditional shops that have moved into downtown storefronts. He has also seen an increase in people interested in dipping their toe in the food and beverage industry.

Most of his clients, half of whom are female, come from referrals and word of mouth, Bourdelais said.

The SBDC office has worked with over 100 people this year. Only a small percentage of those move forward to the actual opening of a business. Not every idea is a viable one, and he helps clients develop a concept fully enough to determine whether it ought to be pursued or not.

“Part of the success of our program is helping people not make very big, expensive mistakes,” Bourdelais said.

FINANCIAL BARRIERS

For many aspiring new business owners, the primary barrier is financial, according to Jim Klarich, director of economic development for the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber offers loans to help someone pursue a good business idea, providing funding to fill the gap between what a bank or credit union will provide and what it takes to get the business started, Klarich said.

The Chamber provides such “gap loans” — available for use in both Alpena and surrounding counties — to about 10 new startups a year. About $1.5 million in business owner, financial institution, and Chamber funding goes into those new businesses, Klarich said.

“If people are interested in starting a new business, they’ll typically find a way to make that dream a reality,” Klarich said. “We’re here to help them.”

The goal of the Chamber’s loan program is not simply to launch a new business, but to make sure it’s sustainable long-term.

“We want them to stay here forever,” Klarich said.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

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