Getting down to business in Niagara | Local News

The Small Business Development Center, (SBDC) headquartered at Niagara County Community College, has continued to stay in operation right through the various phases of the coronavirus pandemic.

In fact, the economic uncertainty that has resulted from Covid has provided the incentives some folks need to turn their dream of business ownership into a reality.

“Some people have started a side business to make a little more money,” Maureen Henderson, the center’s director, said this past week. “People want to be as secure as financially possible, and know they may not be able to count on their employers as much as they are used to.”

While many of the meetings between the center’s staff and local entrepreneurs have gone the virtual route, Henderson said that’s not all bad.

“People don’t have to drive,” she said, “if they are working their other job they don’t have to take the time off — they can meet with us on their lunch break.”

Henderson said before the pandemic some 90 percent of the center’s meetings with entrepreneurs were in person, but things have flipped. Now more than 90 percent are on Zoom or by telephone she said.

In order to meet the changed environment, the center has improved its technology to allow for remote and hybrid activities as well as for sharing secure documents online.

In addition to the location at NCCC’s Sanborn campus, Henderson said there are satellite locations at the Culinary Institute in Niagara Falls and the Bewley Building in Lockport.

The City of Lockport and the Niagara County IDA both have current micro-business grant programs available to businesses with fewer than five employees.

Applicants for these grants work with the SBDC on drafting a business plan as well as to complete training.

In addition to one-on-one training, Henderson said the center has three upcoming programs on which they are working.

First is a virtual training for small business owners and key employees with clinical psychiatrist Dr. Erica Gergely, to discuss mental health issues.

“With people working at home we are not getting as much social interaction,” she said. “Also, without the commute we don’t have that time to plan the upcoming day or to decompress.”

“When we don’t see other people regularly we can forget about our mental health.”

Henderson said the webinar would provide some tips and tricks to stay mentally fit.

In addition, an eight session hybrid entrepreneurial training program is scheduled to kick-off in March.

Finally, with funding secured through the Verizon Media Community Benefit Fund, the center is planning an extensive monthly training program to assist military veterans.

The program will be offered in a hybrid format, with the in-person sessions taking place on the NCCC Sanborn campus.

The college’s Office of Veterans Service, headed by Joe Potalivo, will also play a key role in this program.

“I’ve been at NCCC for 14 years,” said Henderson, “and I didn’t know all the resources we have for v eterans … and their families.”

Henderson said the veterans training would focus on entrepreneurial skills as well as other veterans services provided by NCCC.

Potalivo, she said, is intimately familiar with these programs both as the director and as someone who has benefited from them in the past.

Those interested in the SBDCs programs can reach the center at (716) 210-2515.

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