Austin debuts Small Business Development Center

Published 10:29 am Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Julie Kiehne visited Austin recently and said she sensed a great energy in the community with things like Vision 2020 and the Spam Museum moving downtown.

“Things are just kind of hopping,” she said.

As Kiehne walked downtown, she also saw pictures from We Are Austin, a photo project highlighting Austin’s diversity.

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“This is a community that’s really rich in diversity, and we really need to look at how we can support everyone in the community,” she said.

That community buzz and diversity are just a few of the reasons that Kiehne, the regional director for Minnesota’s Small Business Development Centers, is excited that Austin now has a center to help small business owners find the resources they need to be successful.

The Development Corporation of Austin, 329 N. Main, Suite 106-L, recently became the Small Business Development Center site in Austin, making it the seventh satellite office for the SBDC in 11 southeast Minnesota counties.



DCA Executive Director John Garry said the idea to bring SBDC to Austin sparked in Vision 2020’s Business Friendly Environment and Downtown Destination committees, which saw the need to help connect small businesses with available resources. Riverland Community College officials were also interested in doing more, especially for immigrant and minority entrepreneurs.

Business people or those looking to start a business can go the DCA, which will then connect them with key resources in the community: banks, the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce and consultants, which may be local SCORE representatives. SCORE is a nonprofit dedicated to assisting small businesses.

The DCA will start out with an introduction and then an assessment of the business. It will then help direct business people to the right place to get the services they need.

“There have always been resources there, but I think [there’s] a growing recognition that we need to make it easier for people to find help,” Garry said.

The SBDC will help business people access capital, likely through banks, and access training.

“More than anything, it’s to get awareness that there’s resources out there for you if you’re an entrepreneur or small business and then get them to the right support,” Garry said.

The services are available to new businesses, businesses from around Mower County and businesses that are already in operation.

“Most businesses in Austin would qualify for these services,” Garry said, adding that businesses need to meet the federal government’s definition of a small business.

Garry is working with one business thats been in operation since the early 1990s.

“We are there to help businesses at all stages,” Kiehne said.

Before Austin’s office opened recently, people from Austin could attain services at the SBDC offices in Albert Lea and Rochester. However, Kiehne said she, along with Austin community leaders, saw the need to bring the concept directly to Austin.

At its core, the SBDC pools community efforts.

“It really works to unite many of the current organizations and resources,” she said.

In 11 Minnesota counties, SBDC has served more than 320 clients and helped them attain $9 million in capital through banks, according to Kiehne. She also said the SBDC dedicated 2,400 volunteer hours in the 11 counties last year.

She met with leaders in Austin and described them as being open to ideas to better the community.

“It’s kind of this concept of surrounding the business owner with this full team of people to support them,” she said.