Group aims to create one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs

The group hopes to eventually house a "matrix" of business resource information on a website to make it easy for business owners to find what they need

Leigh Black Irvin
From left, Director of the Small Business Development Center Carmen Martinez, Chief Executive Officer of 4CED Warren Unsicker, Director of the San Juan College Enterprise Center Judy Castleberry, Regional Manager of WESST Chris Hunter, Alicia Corbell, Denise Williams and Aztec Mayor Sally Burbridge pose for a portrait on April 19 at the San Juan College Small Business Center  in Farmington.
  • Many prospective business owners don't know where to start, and often jump in without proper planning
  • Groups such as WESST, the San Juan College Enterprise Center, and the Hub in Aztec can offer help
  • The group plans to create a resource guide brochure to place in local banks

FARMINGTON – Individuals wishing to start a new business sometimes struggle to find advice on how to begin. With the mission of making navigating the labyrinth of local resources easier, a new "think-tank" group has come together, calling itself the Business Resource Partners.

The group, which is currently organized under Four Corners Economic Development, has been meeting monthly, and has identified some first steps to creating a one-stop-shop of resources for potential entrepreneurs.

"This started as a way to find out what's offered county-wide, so businesses will know where they can go to for help," said Burbridge, former 4CED co-head and the Business Resource Partners organizer. "The vast majority (of future business-owners) have no way to know where to go. I know here at 4CED and in Aztec, folks come in with a great idea and they want to start a business, but they haven't fleshed it out as to whether there's even a need for the business or what the market would be. There's just a general lack of understanding about how to put together a successful business."

Prospective business owners, Burbridge said, are also often unsure of the order of the steps required to get their business started – many start by immediately getting a business license before completing other necessary tasks such as formulating a viable business plan.

Sally Burbridge leads a meeting of the Business Resource Partners at the San Juan College Enterprise Center earlier this month.

"If we can intercept them with information, raise their awareness that there's a variety of resources, and get them the continued support they need, they'll be more successful," she said.

Resources within the county are abundant, said Burbridge, and some organizations even have detailed timelines prospective business owners can use to get started.

"In Aztec we have a 'starting a business checklist,' with guidance such as when to contact an attorney, when to contact an accountant, etc.But it seems like few people follow that," she said. "If we can find a way to help them to be more stable, they'll have a more successful business, which leads to a better community."

During a Business Resources Partners meeting held earlier this month at the San Juan College Enterprise Center, heads of groups that included the Farmington Chamber of Commerce, WESST, 4CED, and the Small Business Development Center, gathered to discuss how to move forward with creating a viable plan to help business owners get the information they need.

Audra Winters gestures earlier this month as she talks about helping people start businesses at the San Juan College Enterprise Center.

During the meeting, discussion turned to the need to create a "matrix" that would list all the resources in the area that help potential business owners.

"The matrix would cover things such as where to get information on writing a business plan, as well as where to find space that would be available for small businesses to use for meetings," said Burbridge. "Our hope is that eventually we will be able to put all of this information onto a website."

Everett Oldham, area specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, talked about the need to create awareness of a starting point where potential business owners should go to get the initial information needed, before just jumping into a business.

"I know Farmington has the Enterprise Center and Aztec has the (business incubator) Hub, but Bloomfield doesn't have a dedicated place," he said. "We need to reach these people earlier than when they've already gotten a business license, and there needs to be a starting place identified."

Evert Oldham addresses the Business Resource Partners earlier this month at San Juan College's Enterprise Center.

Burbridge mentioned other resources entrepreneurs might not be aware of, such as Finance New Mexico, which offers online help with business resources.

"We need to raise that awareness that this type of resource is there, and that the service is free," said Burbridge.

Chris Hunter, regional director for WESST, which provides guidance on planning, operating and growing successful businesses, suggested that all those involved in the group compile a sheet that lists the resources offered by each organization.

"We've seen people who have sunk businesses before they even got started because they don't even know we're here," said Hunter.

Other suggestions included partnering with city governments and banks, as those are often the first places people go when starting a business.

Director of the San Juan College Enterprise Center Judy Castleberry, left, and Director of the Small Business Development Center at San Juan College Carmen Martinez talk April 19 at the Quality Center for Business in Farmington.

The group has decided to continue meeting monthly, and is moving forward with identifying where to house an online version of the matrix of information — possibly on the 4CED website — and has decided to create a business resource brochure to distribute to local banks, as many would-be business owners start the process by seeking a business loan.

"We each have our own different missions," said Judy Castleberry, director of San Juan College's Enterprise Center. "We need to do a better job of coordinating with each other so when we talk to the public, we can send them to the right place."

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.