Since locating in the Santa Clarita Valley in 2006, the Small Business Development Center has helped out hundreds of business owners and entrepreneurs with counseling services on all aspects of running the business. The center was even recognized last year by the state chancellor’s office as one of the top 10 in the state and the top in Southern California. Having gotten the center off the ground and established in the Santa Clarita Valley, director Paul De La Cerda moved on, which opened up a second career opportunity for long-time Santa Clarita resident Steve Tannehill. Tannehill, named the new director in March, sees his mission as expanding the counseling services into the San Fernando and Antelope valleys. The center receives its funding from the College of the Canyons, the Small Business Administration and the state chancellor’s office. Along with the counseling services provided by 10 seasoned advisors, the center also offers a program on certifying small businesses to receive government contracts and an entrepreneur program aimed at teens and young adults. Prior to taking the director position, Tannehill served as chief operating officer at Countrywide Servicing Exchanging, a subsidiary of Countrywide Financial that was a broker for buyers and sellers of servicing rights. As a lecturer in the business program at California State University, Northridge, Tannehill is exposed to young people just starting their careers. In the current economic climate he sees an interest in business ownership because students are seing those in the corporate world losing their jobs. “There is an argument to be made that you control your own destiny if you control your own franchise,” Tannehill said. Question: How familiar were you with the Small Business Development Center before becoming director? Answer: I learned about the SBDC through the College of the Canyons. I had left my previous career and was looking for new opportunities in the (Santa Clarita) Valley; looking for opportunities affiliated with college of the Canyons; and looking for opportunities that would utilize my business background and experience in a service role. In talking with people at the college I became aware of this position and this organization. Once I did my background research on it and saw what its mission was and what it was about I thought it was a perfect fit. Q: Why was that? A: At its core it is providing help to small businesses; that’s what its mission is to help small businesses succeed. It is a public service role, again providing advisory and training services to small businesses at generally no cost to the business. It was sponsored by College of the Canyons, which I think is a fabulous organization and an innovative, cutting edge resource in the Valley. I was looking to be associated with the college, to use my business skills and be in a public service role. This has all three elements. Q: Any thoughts on the progress the center made under its first director Paul De La Cerda? A: Paul did a fantastic job. He did a great job leading the organization, getting it off the ground and getting it in place. So I have a great platform to build from. He accomplished a lot of things. We have 10 counselors on staff. We have Harvard MBAs, we have people who had very successful careers establishing and running small businesses. We have a great group of advisers and Paul built all that. We have a core functionality here in the Santa Clarita Valley and really my job will be to continue to develop and expand on the good work he did. Q: So how have things been going since you became director? A: It is an amazing world. Every day I go into a series of meetings with people and come out with 10 or 12 things to do. Go right into another meeting with 10 or 12 things to do. I am just now getting through that; the meeting phase has tapered off a bit and the getting done phase is kicking in a little bit more. There are all sorts of organizations that touch the small business development center. It is part of my job to meet all those people and help them understand what we can do for them and what they can do for our clients and create opportunities for all of us to work together to serve the small businesses in our region. Obviously it is a very critical time for small businesses. Q: What kind of challenges are small businesses facing in this poor economy? A: It is a very tough time on every front. People are struggling because demand for goods and services is down throughout the economy and people are struggling to make ends meet. We have businesses coming to us that have been in this valley for 20 plus years and are struggling. It is a tough time; however we have a great product to offer them, which are basically professional advisory services at no cost to them. We are funded through grants and business partnerships and the like, which means our services are free to the businesses. We have a regular program, and part of what I’ll be doing is continuing to work to develop that program, where people come in and we set clear economic objectives for them, we make sure that we get them in the hands of the right people whether they are looking for capital, they are having marketing issues, maybe their business plan isn’t make sense, maybe they lost a couple of people and have to expand their personal area of expertise to cover more bases. We have people in all those areas that we can put them with and help them gain the skills they need. We also have a specific program to help businesses get certified to bid on government contracts in general and CalTrans contracts in particular. That is not just building roads but anything that CalTrans might need. It might be desks, it might be carpet. If you are a disadvantaged business enterprise you can get some favorable opportunities with those contracts. Q: Have you been a small business owner? A: I’ve not been a small business owner but I’ve certainly worked in small businesses. I started out working for a manufacturing company. There were six or seven of us and we grew it 10 or 15 people. Then I worked in a private school system which was probably 40 or 50 people and probably did maybe $4 million in revenues there. Believe it or not when I went to work at Countrywide in 1991 while we were not a small business we were not a large business. When I was there I got in starting a new business unit that was a 60-person, $20-million a year business that I ran for them. Q: Any unanticipated challenges you’ve had since starting as a director? A: The only thing I would say is that the center itself is a small business that I’m running here. I’ve got 10 counselors, I’ve got two or three people in the office including myself and we service an area from Palmdale to Calabasas so I probably have the same challenges as any small business. There is a lot to be done, a finite set of resources and it’s managing those resources optimally to get the biggest bang for the buck that we can. Ideally we’d like to provide counseling services to everybody in our area but the funding I receive is not sufficient. Part of my mission is to find partnerships; find cities, chambers, businesses, banks who believe in what we do and will help support what we do. Q: The center has made a bigger push into the San Fernando Valley in recent months, hasn’t it? A: That is right. We are three years old. We are in the infancy stage. Our job is to grow our business. We started off initially in the Santa Clarita Valley as the core focus. The push this year is to expand into our two other valleys. We’ve got some great talent in San Fernando, we’ve got great talent in Antelope Valley and we want to start creating those partnerships, those relationships. But to be successful in those two valleys we need to get funding support out of those two valleys, which we are optimistic we will get. Q: Have you met with any business leaders in the San Fernando Valley? A: We had a great meeting with CSUN, who has the Wells Fargo Center for Small Business. They have a program there where they have their students work with small businesses to help them write business plans. We met with them about what we do and trying to see if there are opportunities for partnership there; where we can provide our counselors to the business and work together. In my three weeks that was my foray into San Fernando. Q: Are there any new programs that the center will offer? A: For the next year, which is really my focus, it is going to be expanding the programs into Antelope and San Fernando valleys. I think we will continue to refine the business model in terms of making sure the clients are coming in, we establish clear economic objectives. We are not here to be a counseling service in the sense of ‘How are you doing’ and ‘How are you feeling.’ We are here to be business advisors; to establish economic objectives; to establish what needs to happen to get you to those economic objectives. Part of what we need to do is ask our clients what they need to do. We will refine that process to make sure we are rigorously supplying a discipline to our clients. The other thing we want to accomplish is more visibility for the SBDC and more name branding. I’d love for everybody in our service area to think if I know a small business that needs help that our name will be on the tip of their tongue.