Nestled in the back corner of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce building is an office that helps people create new jobs.
It is the Kansas University Small Business Development Center, 734 Vt., Suite 104, a free resource available to people who want to start a small business or who are already running one.
Will Katz, regional director, works with a variety of new and existing businesses, from restaurateurs to electricians to movers. He and his consultant, Maggie Bornholdt, provide seminars and one-on-one training for entrepreneurs.
Katz advises people on how to find money to start their business, how to write a business plan, how to market a business and many other facets of business. The cost to start a business in Lawrence can be high, he said, but there is a plus side.
“Lawrence residents support local businesses,” Katz said. “They will go out of their way to support local businesses.”
Hilary Brown, owner of Local Burger, 714 Vt., went to the center before opening her business in 2005 to seek help on the obstacles facing her.
“I do believe that many visionaries are not necessarily business-minded people,” Brown said. “Without a service like this it would be a little difficult for some of them to get off the ground.”
Katz said it’s not only new businesses that come to the center, but also some established businesses visit to update their operations.
Deidre Oliver, co-owner and president of Oliver Electric Construction, 3104 Haskell Ave., Suite A, recently went to Katz to update her business plan. Oliver, whose business the Kansas Small Business Development Center recognized as an Existing Business of the Year, recommends that all types of entrepreneurs visit the center so Katz can help them plan out their businesses.
“It was a very positive experience,” Oliver said.
Katz said he enjoys giving advice to businesses because he can see his contribution and the positive contribution of the local businesses on the Lawrence community. According to a study done by Art Hall at the KU Center for Applied Economics, new businesses created 57 percent of the new jobs in Kansas from 1990 to 2004. Katz said that in a year, the businesses he advises generate about 120 new jobs and $3 million to $4 million in new revenue.
According to Katz, that kind of impact is incredibly important to Lawrence. He said recruiting new businesses is often top priority in town.
“A lot of times in Lawrence, we tend to overlook startup businesses and the growth of existing businesses,” he said.
Right now, though, Katz said it’s harder for businesses to get a loan or line of credit for startup capital in this economy, and that has changed the kind of advice he gives.
“Three years ago our advice was geared more toward how to grow a business,” he said. “Now a lot of the questions are related to cash-flow management.”
But starting a new business doesn’t always mean creating a huge company or making millions of dollars. Sometimes, Katz said, it’s about taking charge of a person’s employment status in this economy.
“Our generation’s version, anybody who’s my age or younger, of the American dream doesn’t mean 2.4 kids and a white picket fence and a dog running around in the backyard,” he said. “It means taking control of your own destiny, owning your own business, doing your own thing and being your own boss.”