By Brian Gabler and Bruce Stenslie
More than 23,000 businesses operate in Ventura County — three quarters of which have 10 employees or less. There are another 20,000 to 30,000 sole proprietors.
Anyone who runs his or her own business knows that it can be a daunting task. Business owners often do very well at producing a product or offering a service but the business management side can be their weak link.
The good news is that there is a group of economic development agencies in Ventura County working together to support businesses by providing many free or low-cost services such as business consulting, low-cost loans, recruitment and training assistance.
Take for example 3-D Lettering.
Owner Armik Shahoony was looking to move from the San Fernando Valley to Simi Valley. He was referred to the Economic Development Collaborative of Ventura County for help. EDC-VC is one of the agencies that provides free advising services to small business owners. It helps with business plans, capital sourcing, financing, human resources and legal issues.
In this case, EDC-VC connected Shahoony with financing to purchase and renovate a building in Simi Valley to meet his business needs. He reached out to EDC-VC on several other occasions to help him obtain additional capital to upgrade the facility and purchase equipment.
Unfortunately, many businesses are unaware that agencies such as EDC-VC exist.
Worse, they underestimate the knowledge needed to run a business and don’t seek assistance until it’s too late.
One of the hardest things for business owners to admit is that they need help — whether it’s about financing, marketing, relocating or addressing sales, management or personnel issues.
Yet, the benefits of having a trained and experienced outside professional review company plans and procedures can be enormous.
A fresh look can uncover systems that are potentially harming to the business or reveal opportunities not yet considered.
One business owner who wasn’t hesitant to seek help was Alma Ferrel.
In 2002, she opened a home-based day care center and preschool in Fillmore. By 2010, she was at capacity. With the demand for childcare services rising in Fillmore, Ferrel knew she needed a bigger space.
All it took was a phone call to EDC-VC and its Small Business Development Center for Ferrel to begin the process of opening ABC Kids Preschool & Childcare in a facility that could accommodate more children.
From working with SBDC advisers on permits, financing, planning of facilities and developing a business plan, to acquiring loans and contacting construction engineers for renovations and playgrounds, SBDC advisers were with Ferrel every step of the way.
EDC-VC’s partnership with the county and First 5 Ventura County enabled Ferrel to receive more than $200,000 in loan funding to build out her new commercial facility, equip it with furniture, purchase playground equipment and install a kitchen. ABC Kids Preschool & Childcare currently has more than 150 children enrolled and employs 20 teachers.
Besides EDC-VC, Ventura County has many other great business and government organizations that make local business retention and expansion their top priority. They include the Small Business Development Center, the American Job Center in Ventura County, Women’s Economic Ventures and SCORE. All offer a wide variety of no-cost and low-cost services. And every city has its own economic development department ready to provide assistance or a referral.
Rather than struggling on your own, rely on a group of experts and organizations that are happy to help.
For a list and descriptions of agencies, go to Ventura County Grows Business at www.venturacountygrowsbusiness.com, a collaborative effort with economic development managers and the Workforce Development Board of Ventura County to connect local businesses with the organizations that are here to support business growth.
Don’t be too shy, proud or stubborn to ask for help.
• Brian Gabler is director of economic development and assistant city manager of Simi Valley. Bruce Stenslie is president and CEO of the Economic Development Collaborative of Ventura County. Both serve on the Outreach Committee of the Workforce Development Board of Ventura County.