Date: July 8, 2008
Wes Curtis, Director
Southern Utah University Office of Regional Services
KANAB — Promoting business development in rural communities might seem like a hit-and-miss proposition, but the Kane County Entrepreneur Forum provides a model for what such a program could and should be.
The forum, which meets monthly in Kanab during the fall, winter and spring, is sponsored by Southern Utah University Regional Services’ Business Resource Center.
“For people wondering whether they can do an entrepreneurship program in a small community, the Kane County Entrepreneur Forum is proof that you can do it and be successful,” said Wes Curtis, SUU Director of Regional Services.
Aspiring business-owners gather once a month at the Kanab campus of the Southwest Applied Technology College for a forum-style presentation featuring a successful Kane County entrepreneur.
The presentation usually lasts 15 to 20 minutes and is followed by a question-and-answer sessions that goes another 45 minutes.
Ed Meyer, Associate Director of the Southern Utah Business Resource Center, serves as the forum’s host. Beginning with the first meeting in September 2007, he said the meetings have usually attracted some 30 aspiring entrepreneurs and owners of existing businesses.
“The community response has been enthusiastic,” Meyer said.
Participants find the forum useful because they get answers from people already running successful businesses in the community, Meyer said.
The speakers usually discuss basic business principles that apply across the board: how to market a business, how to approach customer service, how to train new employees in a small market, how to secure financing.
“They’re not giving away trade secrets,” Curtis said, “but they are willing to share what they’ve learned about doing business in their community that will help others be successful.”
Because so much of Kane County’s commerce depends on tourism, the entrepreneur forum is suspended during the summer, but Meyer said it will start again in September.
The Kane County Entrepreneur’s Forum is part of the Business Resource Center sponsored by SUU Regional Services; it serves to promote the university’s mission to reach out to surrounding rural communities in Southern Utah.
“As much as anything, we hope to inspire would-be entrepreneurs to make the leap,” Curtis said.
In addition to the forum, SUU Regional Services funds training initiatives in partnership with the Center for Education, Business and the Arts, a consortium of civic and businesses leaders in Kanab devoted in part to helping aspiring entrepreneurs.
“In most cases, we help existing businesses help themselves,” Meyer said. “The owners have to be willing to learn and grow. They must be willing to acceptance guidance to strengthen the local economy, and they have to want to add employees to strengthen the local job market.”
The center accepts only a few clients at a time, and those who are accepted are screened vigorously. Currently, Meyer said center volunteers are working with a computer-services company, a language-translation company, and a printing business.
Ben Alderman, owner of Quality Printing Co., said his business has improved significantly, thanks to assistance from the Southern Utah Business Resource Center, the Center for Education, Business and the Arts, and the Southwest Applied Technology College.
Alderman said after he purchased an expensive full-color press, he struggled to price printing jobs. A software package that would help him quote printing bids was confusing and difficult to understand.
“With this new equipment, I wasn’t really sure how to mark up prices for labor and supplies,” he said. “I wanted to be fair to my customers, but I had to be fair to myself so that my business would go.”
He turned to the Business Resource Center for help and received intensive software training through SWATC’s Custom Fit training program.
Meyer said Alderman’s attitude made all the difference.
“He was very open, very eager for our help,” Meyer said. “He was willing to listen and learn, and that made his business a good investment of our time and resources.”
Curtis added, “We’ve elevated his business expertise and understanding to a much higher level than where it was when we started working with him. Our hope is that with this kind of support, the community will be stronger and he’ll live happily ever after.”