The recession probably is stepping up this year's pace at Kansas University Small Business Development Center, its executive director says.
Mike O'Donnell, who has been running the local center since February, said that through the first 10 months of 1991, the SBDC initiated ongoing assistance for 158 clients, compared with 93 during the same period a year earlier.
The SBDC, which is staffed by O'Donnell, a part-time employee and KU graduate students, provides free counseling and assistance to existing and startup businesses.
In terms of basic inquiries and requests for information, O'Donnell said the center is receiving approximately 45 contacts a month, about 10 more than during 1990.
"Some of that's probably due to the recession," O'Donnell said. "Some of that's probably due to the fact that we've moved to a more accessible location."
ON MARCH 1, the SBDC moved with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce from its old location at 209 W. Eighth to its current location at 734 Vt. Although the SBDC is still located inside the chamber offices, O'Donnell said the center's location is identified by prominent exterior signage.
After seeing requests for ongoing assistance increase during the summer months, O'Donnell said the number of businesses requesting that help seemed ot level off in the fall.
Unfortunately, he said, "it's starting to come up again in November."
One significant change in the demographics of the center's clientele, he said, is in the mix of existing and startup businesses that are seeking help.
"In previous years it's been about half and half," he said. "This year there has been a higher proportion of people with existing businesses than people wanting to start new businesses."
TO MEET that need, O'Donnell said he soon will begin promoting a Business Wellness program that the center will be offering free to existing businesses after the first of the year.
The program will provide an analysis of an existing business' operations, a customized plan for the business and a "secret shopper" service, through which an anonymous customer will visit the business and offer feedback to its owner.
The center also continues to hold several low-cost seminars every month to provide pratical information on business topics. O'Donnell said the center will continue to emphasize the seminars, which usually cost about $4, last an hour and deal with basic accounting procedures or other aspects of business operations.
"We've decided that these sorts of basic skills are where we can best assist the business community," he said, noting that seminars on more esoteric business topics are available elsewhere.
DESPITE THE effects of the recession, which have created hardships for many existing businesses, O'Donnell said the center's seminars on how to start a business continue to be among the most popular offerings.
Those programs, which generally are scheduled at least once a month, regularly attract eight to 10 participants, O'Donnell said.
"When the job market's as soft as it is, people may look a little more closely at chasing that dream," he said.
The SBDC also is referring business owners to the KU School of Business' Small Business Institute program, which is taking applications through Wednesday for the spring semester.
The program assigns teams of two or three senior business students, under the supervision of a faculty member, to analyze a business' operations and make suggestions for improvement. O'Donnell said that more than a dozen business are participating this semester but that the program could have accommodated more.
For more information about the institute's program, call Kathy Bryant at 864-7556.