The last couple of years have brought major changes to Tucson's Microbusiness Advancement Center, including the addition of the Small Business Development Center and more recently, a change in top management.
But the 22-year-old MAC is going strong, now offering an array of small-business services under one roof for new entrepreneurs and established business owners.
From intensive counseling offered by the SBDC, to classes and business- planning offered through the Women's Business Center, to help with financing, the MAC is unique among similar agencies for the breadth of services it offers, said Michael Landy, a longtime non-profit management pro named MAC's executive director at the end of June.
Landy, previously executive director of Congregation Anshei Israel, said he's following through on the work of his predecessor, Debbie Chandler, who left the MAC when she was named economic development manager for the city of Tucson.
"Part of my vision coming in - and it was Debbie's as well - was that because we have the multiple agencies and because we have an opportunity to be very cooperative with other SBA (Small Business Administration) agencies as well, is trying to establish a center for a continuum of service for the client," Landy said.
"Whether you have a basic idea for a business, or you need a $2 million loan for a five-year established business with 200 employees, we can serve you at any of those places," Landy said.
Prospective clients are routed to the agency that meets their needs. The SBA-funded SBDC focuses on helping established businesses, while the Women's Business Center is aimed at helping entrepreneurs with classes and help writing business plans. For example, established business owners with a specific problem or issue are referred to the SBDC.
"They might realize they have a flaw they can't fix themselves. They might be very busy but not making money - the problem may be they don't know how to price, don't know how to retail," Landy said.
Most MAC services are free, though fees are charged for some classes and training.
The SBDC itself has undergone some management changes, spurred by the retirement of former director Tom Shambo and two other key managers. The program now is led by Ellen Kirton, a 35-year veteran of the banking industry.
The SBDC is going strong, Landy said, noting that its three full-time and one part-time counselors - formally known as analysts - are seeing some 75 clients a week. And the SBDC is on pace to reach a goal of assisting in financing of $6.5 million this year, he added.
The MAC also works with other agencies, including the SBA-funded SCORE (formerly the Service Corps of Retired Executives) and the Defense Department-funded Procurement Technical Assistance Center, which teaches small businesses how to win government contracts.
Getting help through the MAC can pay big dividends.
Donna DiFiore, owner of Delectables Restaurant & Catering, had worked as a volunteer for the MAC several years ago before turning to the SBDC for help herself.
DiFiore said the SBDC helped her win a bank loan earlier this year that enabled her to refurbish her kitchen and expand the bar at her restaurant at 533 N. Fourth Ave.
"They helped me position myself to get together a banking package," said DiFiore, who also took the basic business course offered by the Women's Business Center as a refresher.
"They have their finger on all the resources," she said, noting that she also got help understanding how to use social media through a MAC workshop.
Christine Schlesinger had already built a pretty successful metal-finishing products business, Best Finishing Inc., at 7660 E. Broadway, before she decided to take a class on understanding financial statements through the local SBDC in 2004.
With the help of the SBDC program, Schlesinger has expanded her business by learning about strategic planning, contract bidding and marketing.
Especially valuable, she said, was a business-planning tool customized for her by her "sage" analyst, Bob Fick, who has since retired.
Schlesinger's experience - including a $1 million contract she won with the help of her SBDC mentor - helped her win the top statewide honor in the 2012 Success Awards from the Arizona SBDC Network.
The best thing about working with the SBDC, Schlesinger said, is the way the program helped her gain perspective on her business and where it is headed.
"It helped me to stay focused on what is important, the bigger picture," she said. "So many small companies, like ourselves, get distracted with the day-to-day grind."
Good taxpayer return
On a broader scale, the MAC and its programs help drive economic development.
The nonprofit MAC's overall budget is about $800,000, about half of which is comprised of grants for the SBDC and the Women's Business Center. The rest of MAC's funding comes from city and county grants - Tucson recently committed $63,000, Landy said - and donations by private donors, banks and other companies interested in boosting small businesses.
To keep the SBA grant funding going, the MAC must raise matching funds amounting to 65 percent of federal funding of the local SBDC and 100 percent of SBA funding for the WBC, Landy said.
Taxpayers are getting a good return on their money, Landy said. He cited a study showing that for every $1,900 the SBDC has spent, it has created one new job and $30,000 in new, local economic impact.
The MAC's board is pleased with Landy's work and the direction the agency is taking, said Kim Stine, president of its board of directors.
"It's the perfect combination of services, so we've been really excited," said Stine, who is vice president of Tucson commercial banking for National Bank of Arizona, one of several banks that support the MAC.
For the banks, MAC programs make good business sense, she added.
"From a bank's standpoint, I believe they're interested in getting better businesses and better-prepared borrowers," Stine said. "Most people aren't used to writing a business plan."
Micro- business Advancement Center
Address: 330 N. Commerce Park Loop, Suite 160 (west of Interstate 10 between West Congress Street and St. Mary's Road, off Bonita Ave.)
Hours: Weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Executive director: Michael Landy
Small Business Development Center
Director: Ellen Kirton
Services: Free one-on-one counseling; referrals to outside resources such as accounting and legal help; seminars and workshops; strategic-planning retreat facilitation; small group sessions on cash and profit management; government contract bid preparation and certification help; assistance in accessing debt or equity capital; advice on business planning and forecasting
Women's Business Center
Services: Business training (fees apply), free counseling, financial assistance for access to capital and loans through banks and microlenders (available to men as well as women)
By the numbers
1,200 to 1,500
Number of Southern Arizona clients served by the Microbusiness Advancement Center annually
Estimated economic impact of each $1,900 spent on MAC programs
Number of regional Small Business Development Center locations statewide, (not including 17 satellite offices)
Number of clients who were counseled or attended training at an Arizona SBDC in 2011
Business starts by SBDC clients statewide in 2011
Arizona jobs created by SBDC clients in 2011
Source: Microbusiness Advancement Center, Arizona Small Business Development Center Network
Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at email@example.com or 573-4181.