Local business community enters boot camp

A couple hours spent in financial boot camp might improve the financial outlook for business owners tired of waiting for the slow economy to ignite island commerce.

The cost is free, and the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce and City of Bainbridge Island are hoping business owners will clamor for the resources presented next Wednesday by the U.S. Small Business Administration and local financial and technical representatives.

“Keeping business alive is a community process,” said Roger Hopkins, a business development specialist for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Seattle district, who helped create the workshop. “The business community has to work together to help each other and we want to be a catalyst for the process.”

The “Small Business Boot Camp” will begin March 9 at 9:00 a.m. in City Hall.

The event is co-sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the city as part of the mitigation effort for the Winslow Way reconstruction project. Representatives scheduled to attend include: Liberty Bay Bank, Viking Bank, Columbia Bank, Evergreen Business Capital, Washington CASH, Kitsap Economic Development Alliance,  Olympic Development Finance Authority, Small Business Development Center, Seattle SCORE, and U.S. Rural Development.

Coupled with a slow economy, the downtown business community is bracing for the underground utility repairs to begin next week, which will last until October.

The workshop is a result of conversations Hopkins had when visiting with local merchants late last summer. Working with Tuana Jones at the USDA Rural Development in Washington State, Hopkins hopes the workshop will the business community cope with their new financial reality.

“We don’t have any answers, and no magic wand,” Hopkins said. “We don’t have grants in our pockets or subsidies to throw out, but sometimes it’s just being able to engage in conversation and create relationships to follow-up and help each other.”

Hopkins feels a personal connection with the island, he said, because he served as a mayor and city councilor in a city in northwest Montana during a similar street reconstruction project.

The business community in Montana got creative by combining storefronts or punching  holes in walls when entrances were blocked, he said.

“The impact was felt by everybody, but there was cooperation and discussion to mitigate that hardship as much as possible,” he said.

Becky Newton from the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance said the upcoming reconstruction project is nothing new for communities in the state, and many cities in Eastern Washington experience similar ongoing projects. Bainbridge isn’t used to the concept so it may seem harder to handle, she said.

“Ask landlords for reduced rent during reconstruction or even a deferral – that’s less costly to do than get a new tenant,” she said. “Make every effort to round up the community to support local business. Don’t market outside. Bring the internal community that loves Bainbridge together to unite around the main street businesses that give so much to the community.”

Newton said consumer confidence and retail are on the upswing, and the county is seeing more activity in recruitment and company growth. Bainbridge is not different, she said.

“Many community reconstructions are much longer than what Bainbridge will experience,” said Newton.

Newton also said the local Chamber of Commerce is one of the strongest and most experienced around, which will help support the community.

The workshop will be both a chance to speak directly to financial lenders about the nuts and bolts of financial need, and a chance to make introductions for business counseling and advising resources. Addie Wood from Columbia Bank, will be in attendance to talk about SBA financing.

“Businesses are still facing challenges with the slow recovery and the SBA can offer more favorable terms than traditional lenders can provide,” said Wood. “We will work with a business to talk about where they are at today and plan for tomorrow with a financing structure with options like extended terms or financing for working capital type projects.”

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