South Coast organizations offer their expertise
Interview with Marsha Bailey, WEV CEO & Founder
HELPING HANDS : As jobs become scarce, South Coast organizations offer their expertise
STEVE SINOVIC, NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
December 14, 2008 8:03 AM
Let’s say you just lost your job in today’s economic recession that will get a lot worse before it gets better, as economists now predict. How can you pick up the pieces and gain employment when you’re spending sleepless nights worrying about paying the bills, keeping the roof over your head and hoping you won’t have a medical emergency?
For some Santa Barbarans, they have been able to change their careers and become entrepreneurs; for others, they’ve reached out to community organizations that can help pave the way to landing that next position.
Jackie Kane worked for two decades as a concert producer, bringing top names to the Granada and Lobero theatres. Given the topsy-turvy entertainment world, Ms. Kane solidified her future by recently opening the Thermography Center of Santa Barbara, which specializes in breast thermography for women.
“For many years I felt passionate about producing, but I’ve chosen to focus my life path in a completely new direction at this time: women’s health and early detection of breast cancer,” said Ms. Kane, who figures the investment cost her $50,000 to purchase the equipment and set up shop at 22 N. Milpas St. In addition, she received certification at a technical institute affiliated with Duke University to gain the requisite skills.
“It’s a huge investment,” added Ms. Kane, who funded the venture with savings and a bank loan, but she said holistic healing is something she’s equally passionate about. “It’s a little scary, but no more than what I would have riding on one concert. With concerts, you win huge and lose huge.”
She said the current turbulence in the economy — and its future impact on the entertainment industry — made her reconsider the future. “After 20 years, I pretty much know how to run a business,” declared a confident Ms. Kane, talking about how her organizational, scheduling and marketing skills come into play. In addition, she’s booking herself as a speaker to community groups as a way to market the business.
South Coast educators, alumni offices and business advocacy organizations also are offering their support — in many cases free — as business dwindles for shopkeepers, jobs are lost, or prospects dry up.
While the unemployment rate on the South Coast has yet to reach the levels seen statewide, the jobless rate in Santa Barbara County took a significant jump in October, rising to 5.9 percent as compared with 5.6 percent the previous month, according to figures released in late November by the California Employment Development Department. The newest figure has the county nearing the country’s 6.1 percent unemployment rate, but is still far from California’s 8 percent.
A spokesman for SCORE said the organization has seen a “spurt” of interest in recent months for counseling from current business owners and those looking to launch new enterprises. Its counselors primarily help those who are neophytes. “More recently, we’re seeing people going into business to create a job for themselves,” said George Rusnak, chairman of SCORE Santa Barbara. Thirty-five counselors with expertise in fields ranging from accounting to wholesaling give freely of their time. Last year, they talked to about 1,000 people, either individually or in workshops.
Mr. Rusnak, a retired management consultant, said the major purpose of the organization “is to help people in business if they are having trouble, or trying to prevent those going into business from having trouble.” He wants those he’s helping to think about how much it will cost to start a business or to keep it running. Then he suggests they write up a business plan to determine where the money will come from.
“Many people don’t have the money (to start a business),” Mr. Rusnak said, and banks these days are leery to loan if you don’t have some skin in the game or collateral. So he asks people to estimate their costs and revenues on a flow chart, and then goes over it with them to determine how realistic the projections are.
These figures can be daunting for someone with a business dream, Mr. Rusnak said. “The clients must make their own decisions. We just try to have people understand what they’re getting into.”
The local SCORE chairman said it’s gratifying when he can help others on their way to running a small business successfully or prevent those who decide it’s not for them from losing money.
While some clients have already made up their minds about what they are going to do before talking to a counselor, Mr. Rusnak said, “if people work with us, continue to attend workshops and network, they will definitely increase their possibility of being successful.”
That is a very important advantage because within two years of opening, 50 percent of small businesses close. By the end of five years, less than 20 percent remain.
For many, however, failure is not an option. And the topic of a January program dovetails with the concerns of many clients, one-fourth of them existing business owners. Called “Secrets of Survival for Small Business in a Down Economy,” the program will include a panel featuring SCORE experts and a talk by Kinko’s founder, Paul Orfalea.
With funding a pivotal concern for businesses in a tight credit environment, just finding the money to get started can seem insurmountable. Women’s Economic Ventures has made loans totaling $1 million to women business owners — and a few of their male counterparts — since its inception in 1991, in the midst of another recession.
“It helps people get in the game,” said Marsha Bailey, WEV’s CEO and founder, who helped start the organization when, as a social worker, she saw “how economics impacted women’s vulnerability.
“Nothing was being done at the time to target economic development for women,” said Ms. Bailey, adding that WEV has provided self-employment training for more than 1,000 women in the region.
WEV currently offers a comprehensive 14-week, 54-hour self-employment training program, individual business counseling, facilitated peer groups, personal development and economic literacy training, mentoring and business start-up loans to enterprises.
Ms. Bailey said a small portion of recent calls are from potential students who recently lost their jobs. “There’s a strong urgency to succeed,” said Mr. Bailey of the clients who see self-employment “not only as a way of finding their passion, but a survival strategy.” Others still have a job, but want to launch a part-time business with hopes of doing it full time as it grows.
However, not everyone finds that the business option is a feasible one.
“Some realize that it’s better not to start something that, for many different reasons, might fail,” said Ms. Bailey. “We count this (realization) as a success.” Of those who’ve made it through the program, 63 percent are still in business.
Many Santa Barbarans have recently started to hit the books to enhance their career goals.
“At times when the economy is a problem, we experience tremendous increase in enrollment,” said Andreea Serban, president of Santa Barbara City College. Fall enrollment was up 5 percent and she expects spring figures to probably be double that. The “unfortunate dynamic” is that students are lining up to get into many career-technical programs when the state is experiencing budget reductions. Many are older adults laid off from jobs and using severance money and loans to retool themselves, such as William Wilson, who is attending SBCC after a 25-year career with the telecom industry.
“He’s emblematic of the person who needed to retrain,” said Dr. Serban of Mr. Wilson, who is featured in a promotional video called “Extreme Makeover” that the college produced. Originally from Northern California, he moved specifically to Santa Barbara to fast track his goal of receiving a certificate in computer networking and electrical engineering.
The college has sufficient funding to maintain its offerings through spring; pre-registration is up by 31 percent from last year.
Areas experiencing significant growth are the one- and two-year programs where there is a “great demand” for employees, Dr. Serban said. For example, enrollment in administration of justice programs is up 111 percent from last year. Students are taking lower-division work as prelude to jobs as police officers, corrections personnel, security workers or records clerks.
Allied health programs, which trains nurses and health-care technicians, has increased enrollment by 62 percent over last year; enrollment in computer-information systems has grown 42 percent.
“Our students are keenly aware of what’s happening in the economy,” Dr. Serban said, pointing to heavy attendance at job and career fairs and accessing the college’s online job-posting system. Student usage of Job Connection is up 36 percent from last year. In addition, the SBCC Career Center has seen unprecedented demand for its courses on resume writing and job-interviewing workshops. “They want that extra edge,” said Dr. Serban.
Susan Goodale, program director of the UCSB Alumni Office, said about 4,000 Gaucho grads are involved in a college-specific LinkedIn program to network with other grads. The university has seen strong demand from “mid-career” alumni 10-15 years out of school looking to optimize career possibilities by connecting with classmates. With 90 percent of the school’s 160,000 grads living in California, regional alumni clubs hold quarterly gatherings for people to mix and network. The university also offers an online program called Career Connection for Gauchos to make contact with grads in their fields or in areas where they can transfer current skills.
“Expanding your networking circle is the best thing anyone can do,” said Ms. Goodale, and not just with alumni organizations. “Look at your professional organizations, Chamber mixers and Rotary clubs as ways to expand your career and business horizons,” she suggested.