Small business office hopes to no longer be ‘best-kept secret’



Rebecca Lobina draws a paycheck from Northwest Missouri State University, and it never escapes her, despite having an office at the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce, that she works in the field of education.

In her case, the education just happens to be about business.

Lobina serves as regional director of Northwest’s Small Business and Technology Development Center. The focus of her work is to create an economic impact through confidential, practical, numbers-driven coaching, technical assistance and financial counseling for existing small businesses and potential start-ups.

On Wednesday, March 22, the local office, and those in development centers across the United States, will have an inaugural SBDC Day, a celebration of successes and an open house to explain the program.

The event, free and open to the public, runs from 4:30 to 6 p.m., at the Chamber of Commerce office, 3003 Frederick Ave.

“We hope to get this best-kept secret to not be a secret anymore,” Lobina said. “We want people to understand the economic development impact that SBDC has across the nation and in our own backyard.”

Small Business Development Centers began through an informal network of universities, including in Missouri, in the mid-1970s. It became part of the U.S. Small Business Administration after President Carter signed authorizing legislation in 1980.

The centers pair usually with higher education institutions, with the federal government funding them on a 50 percent matching basis.

Positive results arise from the centers, Lobina said. Her office, which follows the federal fiscal year, has helped with the opening of 11 businesses since October, increasing sales in the region by $13 million and creating $2.4 million in new investments.

Of the 86 clients she worked with, most have been in existing businesses, which often need money to expand. The center can help in putting together a business plan and a financial projection in order to get a loan, either through the SBA, a private lender or investors.

“I educate them on the factual criteria,” the director said. “You’re going to have to have cash down, you’re going to have to have decent credit, you’re going to have to have collateral. Then they make an informed decision.”

Some questions come in more rudimentary form, she said: How do I file as a limited liability company? Do I need to file as an LLC? Which legal entity should I create?

The center also has access to databases that can help in the determination of whether a business idea might be viable. A report from the center can help clients understand the marketplace.

“You have this gut feeling … ‘Oh, I know it will work.’ Your friends tell you they’ll buy it if you make it. You think the whole world is going to be open to it,” Lobina said. “I say, ‘Let’s do the research and see if the research actually shows this is a good idea in this location.’”

In conjunction with the event, there will be a webinar and live Facebook feed on “Finding and Attracting Investors,” beginning at 5 p.m.