Start it up: SBDC ready to help entrepreneurs

JAMES BEATY | Staff photoDana Hugle, left, and Henry Lehr, of the Small Business Development Center, look over paperwork related to their offices, on the McAlester and Wilburton Campuses of Eastern Oklahoma State College. The two offer help with everything from consulting services to helping find loans for entrepreneurs in the area.

For those who would like to start up their own small business but do not exactly how to do it, expert help is available — and it’s free.

America’s Small Business Development Center, which operates in partnership with Eastern Oklahoma State College, has two local offices with personnel ready to offer advice while working toward the goal of helping make a client’s dream a reality.

One office is at Eastern’s McAlester Campus and the other is the Development Center’s area headquarters at EOSC’s administrative building in Wilburton.

With Business Advisor Henry Lehr manning the McAlester office and SBDC Director Dana Hugle in Wilburton, the two are ready to offer assistance to those who want to start a new business, expand an existing one or who may need advice in other areas.

“We’re a free service funded through SBA tax dollars,” said Lehr, whose office is in Room 223 of the Clark Bass Building on EOSC’s McAlester Campus.

SBDC provides business advice and information as well as other resources designed for the successful management and growth of a business. Services available include developing customized work plans, finding financing, locating new markets, boosting sales and improving productivity.

It’s designed to offer cost-free, confidential consulting to help Oklahomans start new businesses, as well as sustain or expand existing ones.

“Our goal is to help this region of Oklahoma to diversify and support small businesses and make them more economically stable,” Hugle said Tuesday.

That assistance includes courses geared toward new entrepreneurs.

“We offer start-up classes,” said Hugle. “If they are exploring opening a business or an idea they are thinking about getting started, it’s offered in McAlester once a month.”

Hugle said the exact date fluctuates, because it depends on when the Oklahoma Tax Commission can come down. “We also have small business tax workshop for new businesses,” she said.

The program has already had an impact. More than expert advice is available through the SBDC.

Hugle said the office has helped obtain $1.3 million in loans so far this year — and Lehr said that’s just in Pittsburg County.

“We have clients all across Pittsburg County — from industrial to farms and ranches,” Lehr said.

Eastern President Dr. Stephen Smith is elated at the program’s success. He said it began with a vision he had while at the McAlester Campus years ago. He wanted a regional program that would help small businesses in the area.

Smith said he later learned a friend of his was working with the Small Business Development Center at the state level. Smith said he later discussed doing something for small businesses in the area with McAlester City Manager Pete Stasiak, which ultimately resulted in bringing the SBDC program to Eastern.

Smith gave Hugle a lot of credit for the program’s success, saying she and Lehr have done an outstanding job. He also noted the SBDC headquarters on the campus of Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant has been very supportive.

“When you have a vision of what you want to happen, and it does, it’s a beautiful thing,” Smith said.

How the program works depends on the service requested. What happens when a new client walks into the office?

“It starts with an assessment of where they are,” Lehr said.

Some want to open a business but haven’t decided what type. Some are farther along. Others may seek advice on how to expand an existing business or how to sustain a business that’s facing challenges.

Whatever the business, “We have resources to help them get where they need to be,” said Lehr. “We get them on a path to where they want to go.

“If it’s new business, we have a research department connected to OSU in Stillwater,” he said.

Or perhaps an established business may have hit a bumpy spot or the owner needs advice on the feasibility of expansion.

“If it’s already a business, we could review operating and bank statements,” said Lehr.

Hugle and Lehr stressed that all information and work the SBDC does on behalf of clients remains private.

“It’s all confidential,” Hugle said.

Larger local companies should not be dissuaded by the “small business” designation.

“We can help any business as long as it meets the federal SBA guidelines of 500 employees or less,” Lehr said. In addition to the SBA and Eastern, Lehr said the program has community partners, including the city of McAlester.

Lehr said he’s a certified real estate, agriculture and technology renovation expert, while Hugle is certified as an expert in health care, economic development and agri-tourism — which includes wineries and tourism aspects of rural communities.

Through a statewide network, experts can be accessed in many other fields.

“We have accountants, bankers, CEOs, food industry experts,” Lehr said presenting just a few examples. “I’m not a food industry expert, but I can contact one in Tulsa.”

Hugle and Lehr have been busy making the rounds of local governmental entities, including the Pittsburg  County commissioners, to let them know the help is available.

“We figure people will come to you and say ‘We’re thinking about starting a business,” Hugle told the commissioners. 

SBDC assistance is offered in 17 different areas.

They include business startup, growth and expansion, financial analysis and cash flow management, marketing and sales, marketing and industry research, and strategic planning.

Others include obtaining business financing, business training, agricultural business, buying or selling a business, managing business disruption, cyber security, E-commerce, government contracting, international trade, human resources, market and strategic planning, technology commercialization and international trade.

“The Small Business Development Center at Eastern also offers services to Haskell and LeFlore counties.

“We cover the whole region,” Hugle said.

Lehr and Hugle are looking forward to working with more clients.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com

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