Tacoma Business Center aims to help small-business entrepreneurs achieve professional dreams

When small-business owner Wanda Wayne wanted to expand her childcare center and automate her records, she had some fairly common questions: How do I apply for a loan? Where do I find an attorney? Where can I learn the latest bookkeeping software?

A question equally as important: Where will I find the time to do all of this? When she started Love & Kindness Childcare Center in 1995, she had a steady clientele of 35 children. Her business has grown exponentially over the past 8 years. The result? Long days and limited time to research all the different resources available to meet her business goals.

That said, she turned to the Tacoma Business Center (TBC) for assistance. “They helped me out a lot,” Wayne explains. “They made business simpler, and workflow much faster.” TBC’s instruction helped Wayne purchase property on Pacific Avenue, a move that allowed her to expand her business. She also received the software training necessary to automate her bookkeeping.

“The different types of small-business owners that come to us really vary,” says Sharon Barber, Assistant District Director of the U.S. Small Business Administration in Tacoma. Barber, along with John Rodenberg, Business Development Specialist at Washington State University’s Small Business Development Center, works full-time at the TBC’s office at Bates Technical College. “We can see somebody that knows little or nothing about going into business, or someone who wants to diversify their product and is looking for a feasibility study. It’s such a broad range.”

TBC was established in 1995 to provide small-business resources to people in Tacoma and Pierce County. The organization achieves this goal through several cornerstone programs:

*Small Business Administration: a one-stop location where current and future small-business owners can utilize computing resources and receive business assistance and advice;

*Bates Business & Management Training Center: a service that provides on-site, customized professional development and technical-skills training;

*Washington State University Small Business Development Center: a network of services that provides no-fee, confidential counseling in areas such as debt and equity funding, strategic business planning, marketing planning and sales outreach, business coaching and risk assessment, new technology launches, export and import assistance, and management and organizational structuring;

*Service Corps of Retired Executives: an organization of experienced business people who offer free counseling to those interested in going into business for themselves;

*Washington State Office of Minority & Women’s Business Enterprises: an agency that works to create and ensure an equitable public contracting and procurement environment in which all qualified minority women and business, as well as those that are socially and economically disadvantaged, are able to participate without discrimination;

*Community Capital Development: a service that provides loans through the Small Business Administration’s Microloan Program.

TBC exists largely because of Bates Technical College and the overall business community. The center landed on campus when Bates wanted to provide a business-and-entrepreneurship aspect otherwise missing from its program. The salaries for Barber and Rodenberg are paid by their agencies. The office space and operating capital are provided by the college.

“Bates is a primary reason for our success,” says Barber. “Without Bates, this center would not exist.”

The organization also receives donated funds and services from Columbia Bank, Wells Fargo and Weyerhauser.

TBC recognizes that the decision to open a small-business is important and life-changing. Rodenberg ran a hobby business with his son, and has worked as a small-business manager; Barber ran a residential construction firm with her husband. As such, the pair offer real-world assistance.

“A business should define its product or service, rather than simply say, ‘I want to be in business,’” says Rodenberg. “Businesses need to define what it is they are going to sell or offer, who they will sell to, and how. If they can’t really put that in words, they haven’t thought about it enough. Still, we don’t just say, ‘Here’s a book, read it.’ We help them out with all of that.”

Similarly, Barber and Rodenberg receive visitors looking for free money. “We’re in an empowerment zone,” says Barber, “so there are misconceptions about money that’s been infused in this community. There just isn’t that resource. There are a lot of loan programs, but not free money.”

Indeed, TBC’s connection with established lenders is an important service. “You can provide all the technical support,” says Barber, “but the critical part of getting a loan is to know where to go. We work with proven lenders with experience and knowledge in small-business lending.”

Right now there is interest in expanding TBC to other college campuses and chambers of commerce in the South Sound. This makes sense considering the number of people TBC assists.

Last year the organization assisted 4,257 people with their small-business needs. That figure represents someone just interested in using the organization’s computers and library resources, to someone seeking financial or legal assistance. This year the center has assisted 5,136 people.

“The range of clients we get in here is so diverse,” says Barber. “That’s what makes the job fun. And we learn all the time. Nobody knows everything, so we learn something new all the time.”

For more information about the Tacoma Business Center, visit http://www.tacomabusinesscenter.org.