Helping businesses grow: Development center provides free counseling
Advisers at the Corning Community College Small Business Development Center enjoy meeting the various people filled with bright ideas and lots of gumption who come to visit.

The center has been serving Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Yates counties since 1987. Consultants provide one-on-one counseling for anyone interested in starting a business or for established business owners hoping to expand.

“Each person is a new challenge,” said Bonnie Gestwicki, the center’s director. “It is really amazing to learn about what people come up with.”

Advisers have worked directly with 8,864 businesses, helping them to invest more than $61 million in the area’s economy and creating or saving 3,016 jobs, she said.

The center was established to fulfill part of CCC’s mission to encourage economic development in the community.

The center’s main role is providing free and confidential counseling. There are four advisers available for one-on-one sessions. The organization has also provided more than 500 training workshops attended by more than 10,000 people.

About 65 percent to 70 percent of the center’s clients are there to get information about starting a new business, said Scott Bloor, an adviser.

“When a person with a new business startup rolls in here, they have an idea,” he said. “A lot will ask us ‘will this business succeed?’ We don’t know, but we will provide them with tools to make that decision on their own.”

“We are not just here to help people start a business, but to help people make good business decisions,” he said.

The advisers said people often come in with very little knowledge about how hard it is to start a business.

“It is really important to give people the message that owning a business is a 24-hour-a-day process,” said Chris Ward, an adviser. “You don’t just go home at the end of the day. And people need to consider the impact that will have on their family.”

Ward said people can easily get lost in the maze of red tape from state and federal agencies that oversee businesses. Often, people will stare back at her in amazement and frustration as she piles forms on her desk they need to complete before opening shop.

Along with red tape, high taxes and energy costs make New York one of the most difficult areas in the nation in which to do business.

The advisers related tales of people swaggering into the office with wild ideas of opening a business they have no background in and have done no research. They often see people who previously filed for bankruptcy, which means getting a loan is nearly impossible.

“About 95 percent of the time, people don’t have business plans,” Ward said. “Sometimes it is best for us to help people realize starting a business is not the best decision.”

“We play devil’s advocate a lot,” said adviser Carolyn Calkins.

“This isn’t for everyone. You have to be a risk-taker, a decision-maker, and you need financial backing,” Ward said.

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