Let’s start with who are you and what do you do?
I am the Small Business Development Director at Western Washington University. Our primary function is to offer one-on-one, confidential small business counseling to all of Whatcom County. One of the things we look at is what is a small business? We use the Federal definition which is a business that is under 500 employees. There are a couple other measurements in there but that is the main one. Using that metric virtually ninety-eight percent of the businesses in Whatcom County are eligible for our services.
So what is Western’s relationship to the Small Business Development Center? Is it hosted by Western or funded by Western?
Exactly, yes. Both.
It is a thirty-five year old Federal program designed to get Federal funds into small communities to help small businesses. And we are matched by local dollars—by the Port of Bellingham, the City of Bellingham, and Whatcom County. It is the largest local fund in the State of Washington. That’s how we can enjoy such a good center here. We also are funded and hosted by Western. It really is such a cool program.
When a local business approaches you for help how big of a gap is there between what people really need and what people think they need.
That’s an interesting question. People don’t ask me that one very often. I approach it believing that the business owner is the expert in their business. I can’t tell you how much I respect business owners. Somebody who is an entrepreneur, who has studied an industry really is an expert. Whatever is bringing that person in—I call it the presenting issue—maybe they’re struggling or their looking to learn something new. Whatever that thing is, we walk together to get to what the root cause of that issue. Sometimes it’s not the same but that is something that we discover together.
So what brought you to Bellingham?
I have been here and back a few times. I came here for undergrad. I think it was in 1990. I got an undergraduate degree in accounting. I left for quite some time. Then when I was deciding what kind of town I wanted to live in I made a list. I said it has to be near the mountains because I love the mountains. It has to be near the sea. It has to be near water because I was a kayak guide for a while and I love the water. It would be nice if it was a college town. Then I started thinking hey, I know that town. So I came back.
What is your favorite spot in Bellingham. If you are going to hang out for the day where do you go?
THE favorite spot in Bellingham?
Yeah, right. I know. [laughs] Pick one.
Gosh there are so many. I love to be outside. That’s my heart.
You know I have been really diggin’ on Lookout Mountain, the trail. I have been really enjoying my time there lately. So probably there.
We have a dog so I also love to go to the dog park.
In downtown Bellingham. I love going to the Temple Bar. It has such a great vibe and is a really nice play to relax and hangout.
So you mentioned that there are often misconceptions about what you guys do at the Small Business Development Center. Tell me about one of those misconceptions.
I would love to know all of them but I think one of most common misconception is that we are just for start-up businesses or we are just helping people find access to capital. And that is huge part of what we do, but it’s not all we do. We really are a full service center.
Some people think that we just work with students. We do work with some students but we have a professional staff.
So how do you challenge those misconceptions? Does that happen when people walk in the door?
We give talks at different organizations. So we are out doing that. It’s a lot of networking really. A lot of the clearing misconceptions happens in conversation. We get the word out by telling our story, which their stories to the extent that we can—much of their stories are confidential.